Who Are the Two DEA Cooperators Possibly Killed by ‘Los Chapitos’ in Mexico?

Latin America World

“Socalj” for Borderland Beat

My office received credible information that other federal agencies attempted to charge the Chapitos’ fentanyl distribution, but your office directed the prosecution teams not to out of deference to the DEA.

According to this information, at the time of your office’s instructions, two cooperators inserted by the DEA into the Los Chapitos network had been murdered in Mexico.

Despite these deaths, your office reportedly gave the DEA more time to develop its unilateral investigation.

Those statements are a portion and summary of a letter from US Republican Senator Chuck Grassley to Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, requesting information and cooperation from the DEA on their fight against fentanyl trafficking, explicitly targeting Los Chapitos.

US Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley

On April 14, 2023, Anne Milgram, head of the DEA, assured that the DEA infiltrated during the last year and a half and at the highest level in the criminal organization of the Sinaloa Cartel and the children of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.

In the press release of the letter sent by the Iowa Senator, he stated;

According to the DEA, “The Chapitos now run the largest, most violent, and most prolific fentanyl trafficking operation in the world.”

“I’m disturbed by reports that the Justice Department allowed bureaucratic squabbles at the DEA to hamper drug enforcement operations,” Grassley said. “Agency showmanship is unacceptable and shameful. As fentanyl and other illicit drugs cause thousands of American deaths each year, the US can’t continue dropping the ball in responding to this tragedy. Lives are on the line.”

A Grassley investigation revealed that DEA interference last year halted US efforts to issue provisional arrest warrants for the Los Chapitos. DOJ, the DEA’s umbrella agency, reportedly supported and prolonged its obstruction of the Chapitos’ indictments, allowing critical time to go to waste in the US fight to stop the flow of fentanyl.

During that time, according to the letter, two DEA cooperators in Mexico were allegedly murdered.

Cooperators or Informants?

The use of the term “cooperators” could be key here. Especially as the letter is directly to the Attorney General’s office. In the US, cooperators and informants fall into different, but related categories. “Informants” work under the coordination of police officers or agents investigating criminal organizations.

The allegedly executed were known as “cooperators,” a criminal who is in contact with a prosecutor and agrees to collaborate and possibly testify to obtain benefits in their own cases. Often this is done initially through investigating officers or agents. In other words, these are suspected criminals who provide information to strengthen a case, sometimes after their arrest, and cut deals for less punishment.

Who are the Infiltrators?

According to journalist Peniley Ramírez in Reforma, the DEA had informants present at a meeting with high-level members of the Sinaloa Cartel at a “remote ranch” in May 2022 in Sinaloa. The security at the meeting included over 40 armed men and 6 armored trucks with mounted machine guns.

According to Peniley Ramírez, Ovidio, “El Raton” Guzman Lopez, said during the meeting that he was working to centralize the manufacturing of fentanyl in Sinaloa. He also said he was concerned about DEA surveillance and US authorities tracking him.

At the same meeting, Ovidio closed a deal with a distributor from Los Angeles.

Until at least May 2021, the DEA had three sources of information from the close inner circle of the Los Chapitos. Between 2017 and 2022, the sources delivered graphic evidence, recordings, photographs of places and vehicles, and locations of accomplices and laboratories to the US authorities. The DEA informants had recorded Ovidio Guzmán for the last three years, before his arrest in January 2023.

Miguel Alonso Payàn

Miguel Alonso Payán was a security element who guarded fentanyl drug labs for Los Chapitos and later began to transport the drug to the border. He provided photographs of the labs, equipment, and information to the DEA.

Alonso Payán grew up in Culiacán, is said to be no older than 40 years old and from 2018 to 2019 he worked as a guard in the fentanyl and other synthetic drug laboratories in Culiacán and Navolato. He recorded that in Aguapetito, Navolato, the drug “kitchen” was underground in a basement with an elevator where 200-liter barrels entered and left daily.

“The entrance to the laboratory could be covered with earth and branches, it had stoves and presses to make kilos of fentanyl pills. From 400,000 to 500,000 fentanyl pills were sent in small planes to the border,” Alonso said.

This information was disclosed to the Attorney General of the Republic (FGR) during the extradition hearings against Ovidio Guzmán. 

In 2019, after injuring his arm and being no longer able to carry out security duties, Miguel Alonso Payán was instructed to transport fentanyl pills hidden in armchairs and bus seats from Sinaloa to various border towns.

Alonso Payán declared that in the four years he worked for them, he only saw Ovidio Guzmán “El Ratón” twice. The first time was in 2020 when he and his cousin Jaime “Jimmy” Loera visited him at the La Anona ranch.

Jaime “Jimmy” Loera worked for two years with Los Chapitos and was responsible for a safe house in the Fraccionamiento Montebello, in Culiacán, Sinaloa where drugs and weapons were stored. Loera once confirmed to Alonso Payán that Los Chapitos sent 400,000 to 500,000 fentanyl pills to the border every month. Alonso and Loera’s telephone communications were monitored by the DEA.

The second time that Alonso saw Ovidio was at the same Jesus Maria ranch Ovidio was eventually arrested at on January 5, 2023.

Former Police Officer?
In 2015, a man listed in a news report as Miguel Alonso Payan was discharged from his 3-and-a-half-year position as a state police officer in Sinaloa. He had refused to take a toxicology test and was dismissed. He traveled to the US in search of employment but came back and was told he could not get a job as he had been a public servant and had not been ‘regularized.’ He filed a complaint to be recognized as such as employment was difficult to find otherwise.

While we do not have a full confirmation that it is the same Miguel Alonso Payan; the timing of when he left his police job and the number of years he provided security for Ovidio matches up with him starting to work for the cartels after police work.

Oddly enough, the review of his job complaint following his dismissal was done by Genaro Garcia Luna. Last year, the SEDENA Guayamaca leaks revealed that they believed the Sinaloa Cartel had infiltrated the SSP, state police in Sinaloa.

“In relevant events, take into consideration that the Secretary of Public Security of Sinaloa is infiltrated by a member or person on behalf of the Pacific Cartel, who sends them information on the activities carried out by Municipal, State, and Federal authorities, which allows the aforementioned Cartel to react immediately,” read the SEDENA emails.

Alonso Payán provided the DEA with photographs of drug labs, money, and buses carrying fentanyl. The DEA also has photos of Alonso in which he appears to be shooting or carrying an AK-47 and a grenade.

In 2021 Alonso apparently stopped operating for the organization. It is not known if this was due to his arrest, death, or being removed from Mexico by the DEA for his protection. 

Juan Carlos Arce Cabrera

Juan Carlos was involved in the distribution side of the fentanyl and other narcotics operations. He was one of the critical pieces of their case as an informant for the DEA for more than a year, during which he recorded conversations, took photographs, and revealed locations of the drug trafficking rings of Los Chapitos.

According to information released after the US government’s announcement on Friday, April 14, 2023, the DEA took advantage of the fact that Juan Carlos Arce Cabrera, now a protected witness, feared that Los Chapitos would end his life, just as they did with one of his brothers.

Officially, it is known that Arce Cabrera was an associate of the Guzmáns, who did several drug deals, particularly Ovidio, between 2019 and 2022, at the height of fentanyl production.

Because one of Arce Cabrera’s brothers was allegedly murdered, he contacted the DEA in California and that is how he later sought to have the meeting with Ovidio Guzmán where Ovidio was recorded.

Arce Cabrera recounted that he saw Ovidio a couple of times, The second time he had a meeting with him to negotiate 80 to 100 kilograms of fentanyl that would be exported to the Los Angeles area. The witness stated that on May 26, 2022, he had contacts with emissaries of the cartel to arrange a meeting.

Recorded Meeting
He flew from California to Mexico City, then took a plane to Culiacán, where he met Ovidio’s people at a gas station who took him to a ranch in the community of La Anona, a few miles from Jesús María for the meeting.

At the meeting, Ovidio authorized him to sell five kilos to distribute in the Los Angeles area, but Arce said that he would need between 80 and 100 kilos of fentanyl. In addition, he said, he advised Ovidio not to discount or manipulate the drug because it could harm consumers. In response, someone said that the plan was to kill off other fentanyl manufacturers and centralize production in Sinaloa.

The DEA obtained alleged photographs of Ovidio’s ranch and the recording of that meeting and other phone calls between Juan Carlos and Ovidio.

Juan Carlos Arce Cabrera is noted as a now protected witness, the meeting he set up with Ovidio in May 2022 was one of the key parts of the DEA’s investigation and may have been the reason for the DEA’s request to hold off on indictments and arrests.


NN is the listed anonymous alias for the third informant/infiltrator and according to the indictment against Los Chapitos’ fentanyl trafficking operations, this same witness is referred to as CC-1 in the indictment. 

“NN/CC-1”, who was in charge of the California warehouse storing fentanyl testified in New York on January 27, 2023, as part of a hearing for evidence to request the extradition of Ovidio “El Raton” Guzman. 
“CC-1” claimed to have sent close to $24 million to Los Chapitos, as part of profits they obtained from the distribution of drugs in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Massachusetts. These are the same claims 
One revelation regarding the identity of CC-1 in the indictments stated that Los Chapitos had his brother kidnapped due to an owed drug debt and was able to negotiate it. 
Juan Carlos Arce Cabrera however reportedly began cooperating with the DEA/US following his brother being killed. It is possible, with Juan Carlos operating in California as well that he is the CC-1 referred to in the indictments or part of the same group. But that would mean that NN is another individual, even though the testimony attributed to both CC-1 and NN includes the $24 million money laundering operation.
Based on this date of testimony, and that he operated primarily in California likely means that NN/CC-1 has not been killed and has been under protection in the United States, especially considering he has not been named in any way yet publicly.
Ovidio had recently been arrested in Jesus Maria, Sinaloa weeks prior resulting in a deadly shootout at his ranch and a “Culiacanazo 2.0” of narco blockades, shootings at the airport, and fires in an attempt to have him released.
It is possible, and has been alleged that NN was not an initial member of the Sinaloa Cartel but was placed in their US network undercover. The reason for this theory stems from the US authorities not revealing his identity.


In the same indictments, a CC-2 is mentioned as being introduced to the Chapitos by a Juarez-based Sinaloa-allied gang in the region. CC-2 is a corrupt border official based in El Paso, Texas. The official began working with Los Chapitos in August 2021 and would allow, in exchange for money, Pablo Lozano to traffic drugs via mules during his late-night shift at the border. The indictment does not claim or mention what happened to the corrupt border official. Based on the information, he was likely discovered and arrested and began cooperating.


CC-3 is an individual, based in the United States who worked with Lozano as well to traffic fentanyl into El Paso, Texas, and brought money back belonging to Ivan Archivaldo Guzman Salazar.

HSI/ICE Involved in Ovidio’s Arrests

Another letter, sent by ICE Deputy Director Patrick J. Lechleitner (recently named Acting Director) to Senator Grassley was received prior to his letter to the DEA requesting similar information. ICE & HSI outlined their involvement in the pursuit of “El Chapo” and his sons, speaking to their involvement in the operations to arrest Ovidio both in 2019 and his successful capture earlier this year, prior to the public announcement of official indictments on new fentanyl charges.
On January 5, 2023, HSI successfully coordinated with Mexican counterparts to effect the arrest of Ovidio Guzmán-López in Jesús María, Sinaloa, Mexico. HSI coordinated with DOJ prosecutors to submit an extradition request to the Mexican government in accordance with established rules.  

Regarding this DEA leak in the Sinaloa Cartel, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador described it as an “abusive and arrogant interference”, for which he assured it is unacceptable. “How are they going to be spying?” Questioned the president in his morning press conference.

DEA Had Asked to Delay Indictments

In 2018 the DHS investigative agency, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), worked hand in hand with the Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Section (NDDS) of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to have Los Chapitos designated as priority targets for the DEA, which they were in 2019.

During the first “Culiacanazo” Homeland Security Investigations worked closely with their Mexican counterparts. After Ovidio’s release, the HSI continued to investigate and attempt to locate all of the Los Chapitos brothers and their lieutenants. Drug trafficking and distribution charges were brought against several of the brothers in 2018 and 2019, but none included fentanyl charges.

These two investigations culminated in a joint indictment against Los Chapitos by HSI and the FBI in December 2022. On December 14, 2022, federal prosecutors obtained a joint, superseding indictment against all four Chapitos that included charges of 36 violations under the Continuing Criminal Enterprise statute, which carries a potential sentence of life imprisonment. The evidence obtained from HSI’s ‘Operation Paisano’ accounts for 11 of the 36 violations.  

The DEA was not listed on the indictment as having taken part in or handled either of the investigations.
That indictment was not handed down at that time, however. It was not revealed until four months later on April 15, 2023. Senator Grassley noted, the DEA developed a kind of competition with the Southern District of New York. The Senator stated that the DOJ, presumably on the orders of Deputy Attorney General Lisa Mónaco, ordered all arrest operations that its agencies had against Los Chapitos to “pause.” The Senator stated that the HSI continued to investigate Los Chapitos because the agency is not part of the Department of Justice and did not have to adhere to its policies.
Citing The New York Times, Senator Grassley recalled that in May 2022 the Department of Justice (DOJ) allegedly ordered all its federal agents to “withdraw” from the arrest operations against the sons of “El Chapo.” 

The DEA revealed an indictment targeting many of the same individuals. The two cases and those charged were jointly announced, including the details of the infiltration of the inner circle of the cartel by the DEA and the details of recorded meetings.
Grassley attached a 2020 memo from the Deputy Attorney General regarding multiple districts investigating the same persons and organizations.

Cooperator Deaths

Based on the wording in the Senator’s letter, it is possible that the deaths of one or both of the informants occurred around the time of the issue of the pending FBI and HSI indictment to be held off until the DEA was ready with their case and it was allowed to conclude. The DEA cited the protection of its assets/informants in place.

That implies that the DEA was able to pull its assets out prior to the massive April 2023 announcement of the multi-indictments against Los Chapitos. But that also could mean they were no longer at any risk, having already been killed.

The letter states that they were killed while instructions were being given to hold off on the indictments. And that the DEA kept going with their investigation and operation for months after those deaths.

While it has been reported there was conflict between the agencies over the cases and delay requests, the full extent of what occurred around that time is not known yet. If the Senator’s timeline is literal and correct, the turmoil surrounding the operation at that time may have made it unsafe for the DEA’s undercover informants or cooperators.

These deaths could have occurred around either May 2022 or December 2022. During those two periods, few deaths could have been linked to the cooperators. One stands out, however, with the death of Gaspar Gastélum Escobar who was gunned down on May 24, 2022, in Culiacan, Sinaloa. He was the brother of Jose “El Che,” Gastélum Escobar a fentanyl producer for the Sinaloa Cartel under “El Mayo”. He was arrested in 2021 and had supposedly been released.

DEA Transparency Issues

Also in May 2022, the DEA saw turmoil in their Mexico operations with the DEA plane being removed from Mexico and an elite DEA unit being dismantled there. In a letter to the DEA chief, Anne Milgram, two US Senators urged the agency to answer detailed questions about the closure of the elite unit and the removal of the plane, according to a statement by Grassley’s office. “If accurate, these reports raise additional concerns about the status of DEA operations in Mexico and the DEA’s working relationship with foreign law enforcement units,” the two senators said in a letter dated May 23, 2022.

The Senator also has accused the DEA of cooperating with the press better than with the Justice Department and Congress. A possible issue occurred following the capture of their most wanted Rafael “Caro” Quintero in June 2022 with DEA Administrator Anne Milgram congratulating the DEA on their involvement in the arrest. The message was removed and President AMLO stated that the DEA was not involved and that the operation was carried out by the military in Mexico.
Special thanks to Buggs