Authorities in New York have indicted a suspected Mexican drug kingpin they say was responsible for trafficking enough fentanyl to kill 10 million people.
Authorities say the arrest of Francisco Quiroz-Zamora provides a window into how the powerful Sinaloa cartel moves drugs from Mexico to the United States.
Quiroz-Zamora, a 41-year-old known as "Gordo," or the Fat One, has been charged with operating as a major trafficker, first-degree sale of a controlled substance and second-degree conspiracy.
Quiroz-Zamora and five co-defendants will be arraigned in New York City today.
Officials with New York's Special Narcotics Prosecutor indicted Quiroz-Zamora. Officials allege he arranged for nearly 20kg of fentanyl to be shipped to New York - a haul of drugs that had the potential to kill 10 million people. Fentanyl is about 50 times more powerful than heroin, and just a few grains can kill.
Fentanyl, which is made in clandestine labs with cheap chemicals, has become a lucrative business for traffickers. It is often cut into heroin or pressed into counterfeit pills made to resemble legitimate prescription drugs, including OxyContin and Xanax.
For a high-level dealer, Quiroz-Zamora was extremely involved in every aspect of the process that gets drugs from creators to users, officials claim. He organised a pipeline that sent drugs from Mexico to Arizona and California through trucks, cars and drug couriers and authorised transactions between customers and dealers, according to authorities.
Mexican trafficking groups are attempting to turn New York into their distribution hub, and fentanyl is now their main product. The amount of fentanyl seized by the Special Narcotics Prosecutor in New York rose from 15kg in 2016 to 491 pounds last year.
The drugs are now managed by inconspicuous dealers. They include a middle-aged couple who authorities said came to New York to broker the sale of 222kg of fentanyl seized from a Queens apartment.
Quiroz-Zamora allegedly was planning for a lucrative payday. He negotiated a going rate of between US$45,000 and US$50,000 per kilo of fentanyl. Officials seized the fentanyl as the result of two undercover sales they said were organised by Quiroz-Zamora.
In one instance, the drugs were stuffed in a duffel bag and placed atop a vending machine at the Umbrella Hotel in the Bronx in June.
In another, authorities said they found more than 2kg of fentanyl in a US$4000-a-month apartment on Central Park West, with US$12,000 in cash and a loaded gun. Thousands of packages of drugs ready for sale with names including "Uber" and "Wild Card" were discovered in the apartment. A man who left the apartment in an Uber was arrested along with the driver after heroin was found in the car.
Authorities allege Quiroz-Zamora went to New York in November to collect money he thought he was owed. He was arrested at Penn Station in New York City after arriving in an extremely roundabout way. He allegedly flew from Texas to Connecticut and went to Delaware, where he boarded a train that took him to Penn Station.