Project Python is a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)-led multi-agency operation that’s been investigating Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, or CJNG, for six months.
The result of that investigation included 350 indictments, 600 arrests and “significant” seizures of money and drugs.
In San Diego and Imperial Counties, 130 people were arrested in Project Python and agents seized more than 3,300 pounds of methamphetamine, 60 kilograms of heroin, 200 kilograms of cocaine, 44 kilograms of fentanyl and 2 kilograms of opium. Eighteen firearms were also seized.
CJNG often uses children and juveniles to smuggle drugs from Mexico into the U.S. In one case, two children in child safety seats were strapped in the backseat of a car crossing the border. Underneath those car seats, agents found dozens of bundles of methamphetamine.
“They exploit children to get drugs into our country,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge, John Callery, who called the practice “despicable.” Callery explained that teens are often recruited by cartel members to carry drugs across the border.
“They’re told this is an opportunity where you can make money,” explained San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Terri Perez, who is handling come of the prosecutions.
Perez said the teens are promised new phones, new clothes, and new-found popularity.
“You can go to the parties, kids will like you and when you’re dealing with young children, 15 or 16-year-olds, that’s all they care about,” said Perez.
Perez said the juveniles are told they won’t get into trouble if they’re caught with the drugs because they’re underage, but that’s not the truth. The teens also don’t realize the safety risk they’re taking.
“When you have young people strapping drugs to their bodies, including toxic drugs such as fentanyl. If that were to open the packages they would be exposing their faces, their nose, their eyes, and that could be fatal,” Perez said. “You’re also walking around with thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of drugs, which can potentially make you a target.”
Although the cartel is responsible for thousands of deaths in Mexico, Callery said they rarely kill people in the U.S. because it would attract to much heat from law enforcement, but said, “I have no doubt in my mind that if you made a mistake and you’re part of CJNG and you crossed the line with them that they would have no problem killing someone in the U.S.”
On a scale of 1 to 10, Callery said CJNG gets a 10 when it comes to acts of violence.
According to the DEA, CJNG’s mastermind is Nemesio Ruben Oseguera Cervantes, known as “El Mencho”. El Mencho is believed to be in Mexico, where authorities refer to him as “The Ghost” because he rarely is spotted in public.
A $10 million reward is being offered for the capture of El Mencho, who is considered to be both smart and ruthless.
El Mencho is described as the top producer of methamphetamine in the world. His criminal enterprise also includes trafficking in fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, and opium, according to the DEA, which says Project Python is the “single largest strike” against CJNG.
The DEA’s goal is to “disrupt, dismantle, and destroy drug trafficking organizations around the world and bring their leaders to justice,” said Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon in Washington.
Here in San Diego, Callery had this message for the cartel: “We’ll meet you on the battlefield, but leave your kids at home. It’s disgusting that you’re using juveniles and children to traffic drugs.”