SEATTLE (KOMO) — Federal drug investigators say there are many homegrown, illegal drug makers who are operating in the Seattle area and the Pacific Northwest, but violent Mexican drug cartels are moving in and also trying to establish a foothold in the region.
Officials from Homeland Security Investigations, the principal investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, told KOMO News that they are eyeing one group in particular because of its brazen activity.
That group is known as Jalisco New Generation Cartel, or CJNG, and its members are active in Mexico with operations that extend through the U.S. and all throughout Washington state.
Federal law enforcement said the cartel is now the primary group trafficking fentanyl into the U.S. across the southern border and into the Pacific Northwest via the north/south Interstate 5 corridor.
“I would say that they are a huge threat to the stability of this region,” said Robert Hammer, the special agent-in-charge with Homeland Security Investigations, adding that the group brazenly flaunted their armored vehicles and high powered weaponry during a recently released video in Mexico. where it is illegal for most law-abiding citizen to own.
The video praised the cartel's boss, known as El Mencho, who is considered the most wanted criminal in Mexico and one of the most wanted people by U.S. law enforcement agents.
“The display of weapons shows one thing," Hammer said. "But if you actually go back and look at what they’ve done with those weapons, what they’ve done with the mass killings, what they’ve done with the destruction of a human to convey the message that they are not to be messed with.”
CJNG spreads fear through intimidation and through the infliction of extreme pain and torturous death while trying to hang on to power and territory, officials said.
“Whether it’s ripping the fingernails out of somebody’s hands as sending a message to them or tying them up in a tree in the middle of Central Washington to die or dismembering them and shipping their remains off, they’re there to deliver an effective message," Hammer said. "Which is don’t mess with us."
The group's primary drug of choice to traffick is fentanyl, which is said to be 50 times more deadly than the heroin it is supplanting in the Pacific Northwest.
“We’re seeing cartel activity (and) it’s not limited to just the Seattle region," Hammer said. "We’re seeing large cartel activity in middle Washington (and) we’re seeing cartel activity in Southeast Washington."
In July 2020, federal agents in Puget Sound seized 200 fentanyl pills and 20 pounds of methamphetamine along with heroin, cocaine, nine firearms and more than $250,000 in cash.
According to investigators, 19 drug traffickers linked to CJNG were arrested and 15 were indicted after an 18-month investigation.
Just before that, law enforcement seized 1500 fentanyl pills and more than 100 pounds of meth along with various quantities of cocaine, heroin, and six firearms.
And in March 2021, the homeland agency's Narcotics Taskforce, along with Seattle Police Department detectives, seized 410,000 fentanyl pills, 77 pounds of meth, 908 grams of heroin and 787 grams cocaine while serving several warrants in Bellevue.
“I think it’s something that should be eye opening to some of the stories that have taken place across this region," Hammer said. "It’s not limited to just downtown Seattle. This is really a regional problem that we’ve seen with the cartel activity and its requiring a multi-faceted approach by law enforcement to get after it.”
In fiscal year 2020, Homeland Security Investigations seized 6,105 pounds of fentanyl across the country and made 31,915 criminal arrests. But in just the first four months of this year in the Pacific Northwest, HSI has seized 131 pounds of fentanyl.
Last year, federal agents seized 50 pounds and in 2019, just four pounds.