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April 5, 2023Phoenix, AZ, United StatesOrganized Crime, Narcotics, Firearms, Ammunition and Explosives

Sinaloa cartel hitman and El Chapo’s head of security extradited to US on drug trafficking and firearm charges

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Over the weekend of April 1, Jorge Ivan Gastelum Avila, 42, of Mexico, aka Cholo Ivan, was extradited to the United States and made his initial appearance in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia yesterday to face international drug trafficking and firearms charges. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Nogales, assisted by the FBI’s Washington field office, are investigating the case.

“After the arrest in 2016 of the most prolific purveyor of violence within the Sinaloa Cartel, the extradition of “El Cholo Ivan” demonstrates HSI’s unwavering commitment in the fight against violent criminal organizations,” said HSI Arizona Special Agent in Charge Scott Brown. Without a doubt, many lives on both sides of the border have been spared now that he is on U.S. soil facing drug- and firearms-related charges. HSI thanks the government of Mexico and our law enforcement partners for countless hours working together to ensure this man is kept in custody, thus preventing an inevitable killing spree. Together, we will continue to dismantle the Sinaloa Cartel.”

According to court documents, between August 2009 and January 2016, Gastelum Avila was a high-ranking member of the Sinaloa Cartel, an international drug trafficking organization that was headed by Joaquin Guzman Loera, aka El Chapo, and Ismael Zambada Garcia, aka El Mayo. The Sinaloa Cartel is a violent, transnational drug trafficking organization based in Mexico that is known to be engaged in the manufacture, distribution, and importation of ton quantities of cocaine and marijuana from Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras to Mexico and into the United States.

Court documents also allege that at the time of his arrest, Gastelum Avila was a lead assassin for the Sinaloa Cartel and worked closely with Guzman Loera. He allegedly operated as the “plaza boss” for the Mexican city of Guamúchil, Sinaloa, and in that role, he supervised at least 200 armed men and controlled the drug-trafficking activities in that city and the surrounding area.

In January 2016, Mexican authorities arrested Gastelum Avila and Guzman Loera together in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico, as they attempted to flee arrest. In December 2018, a grand jury returned an indictment against Gastelum Avila. The United States requested his provisional arrest in February 2020 and Mexican authorities arrested Gastelum Avila based on that request in March 2020. Gastelum Avila remained detained in Mexico pending his extradition. He was extradited from Mexico to the U.S. on April 1.

Gastelum Avila is charged with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine and over 1,000 kilograms of marijuana intending and knowing that those substances would be imported into the United States. He is also charged with knowingly and intentionally using, carrying, brandishing and discharging a firearm, including a destructive device, during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime. Gastelum Avila faces a maximum penalty of life in prison for the drug conspiracy charge and a mandatory consecutive sentence of 30 years for the firearms offense. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Guzman Loera was extradited to the United States in January 2017. In July 2019, he was sentenced to life in prison for being a principal leader of a continuing criminal enterprise, narcotics trafficking, using a firearm in furtherance of his drug crimes and participating in a money laundering conspiracy.

This case is supported by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, acting Executive Associate Director Steve K. Francis of HSI, Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division and Assistant Director in Charge David Sundberg of the FBI Washington field office made the announcement.

Trial Attorney Kirk Handrich of the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section is prosecuting the case. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided valuable assistance with securing the arrest and extradition of Gastelum Avila. The Criminal Division’s Office of Enforcement Operations also provided significant assistance.

An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.