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CBP Announces Next Phase in Fight Targeting Criminals Funneling Fentanyl into American Communities

Release Date
Wed, 04/10/2024
For More Information
PAS Rob Daniels

NOGALES, AZ – U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) today announced that it will lead an expanded, multi-agency effort to target the transnational criminals funneling fentanyl from Mexico into American communities. Operation Plaza Spike targets the cartels that facilitate the flow of deadly fentanyl, as well as its analogs and precursors and tools to make the drugs. It is designed to disrupt operations in the “plazas,” cartel territories located directly south of the United States that are natural logistical chokepoints within the cartels’ operations. This is the next phase in CBP’s Strategy to Combat Fentanyl and Other Synthetic Drugs, a whole-of-government and international effort to anticipate, identify, mitigate, and disrupt illicit synthetic drug producers, suppliers, and traffickers.

Operation Plaza Spike will employ multiple tactics, including seizing illicit proceeds and scrutinizing related cross-border business entities and cross-border trade. Operation Plaza Spike includes releasing the name of the plazas’ senior ranking cartel officials, the “plaza bosses,” to increase public and law enforcement pressure on them. Plaza bosses control and profit from all illicit activity through the plaza – extortion, kidnapping, as well as the smuggling of humans, dangerous drugs, and firearms. CBP will leverage partnerships, authorities, and resources of other government agencies in our efforts to gather intelligence, disrupt and degrade illicit operations, and deliver legal consequences.

“So long as fentanyl and other illicit opioids wreak tragedy across American communities, the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security will remain unrelenting in their work stopping these deadly drugs from hitting our streets and taking lives,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “Operation Plaza Spike is a critical step in our ongoing whole-of-Department campaign to directly attack the transnational criminal organizations that peddle narcotics, death, and destruction for profit. We are sparing no effort to dismantle cartels and ensure everyone from kingpins to plaza bosses are brought to justice.”

CBP’s first target is the Nogales Plaza, located directly south of the border crossing at Nogales, Arizona. Sergio Valenzuela Valenzuela, aka Gio, the Nogales Plaza boss, was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2018 for his role as a Sinaloa Cartel Plaza Boss.

“We are entering the next phase in our fight against fentanyl: one where we are going after the plaza bosses, whose organizations are responsible for virtually everything that is smuggled into the United States. By targeting them for enforcement action, we can directly impact their operations and ability to traffic fentanyl into the United States, which makes its way into communities all across the country,” said Troy A. Miller, CBP Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Commissioner. “Sergio Valenzuela Valenzuela is the first plaza boss that we target, but he won’t be the last. Just as the men and women of CBP are steadfast in the fight against fentanyl - will be unrelenting in our pursuit of those people and organizations that threaten the safety and security of our people and our country.”

Valenzuela Valenzuela and his organization allegedly are responsible for moving thousands of pounds of fentanyl to the U.S. border. Nearly every day, CBP officers intercept fentanyl headed from Valenzuela Valenzuela’s plaza northbound through CBP ports of entry onward to cities across the United States.

Operation Plaza Spike is just the latest effort by CBP, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as part of this Administration’s efforts to stem the flow illicit opioids, including fentanyl, and cracking down on the Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) that traffic them. Through a whole-of-government effort, the Department has stopped more illicit fentanyl and arrested more individuals for fentanyl-related crimes in the last two fiscal years than in the previous five years combined.

CBP is also in the midst of Operation Apollo, and announced today that it will expand into Arizona to continue gathering and utilizing intelligence, and focusing on state and local partnerships to interdict fentanyl. Operation Apollo was launched by CBP in Southern California in October 2023 as a counter-fentanyl joint operation. CBP has evaluated the successes and lessons learned from Operation Apollo, and Operation Apollo – Arizona is now replicating it within the Arizona corridor, integrating all local law enforcement resources in Arizona to interdict finished fentanyl products, illicit precursor chemicals, adulterants, pill press equipment, illicit proceeds, and weapons.

In addition to CBP’s efforts to target operations that move fentanyl north, as well as guns south, CBP will be leveraging partnerships, authorities, and resources of other government agencies.

In 2023, DEA seized a record 79.5 million fentanyl pills and nearly 12,000 pounds of fentanyl powder. Throughout Arizona the DEA Phoenix Field Division seized more than 42 million fentanyl pills last year.

“Fentanyl is the deadliest drug threat our nation has ever faced. The men and women of DEA are relentlessly focused on saving lives by defeating the two cartels responsible for the majority of fentanyl and methamphetamine poisoning our communities – the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels.” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. “DEA proactively investigates cartel members and associates, like Sergio Valenzuela Valenzuela, who allegedly oversee the transportation and distribution of these deadly drugs while interagency partners, like U.S. Customs and Border Protection, interdict shipments at the border before they enter our country. These partnerships ensure those responsible face justice for their crimes.”

As a collaborative partner, HSI will leverage its abilities, ample customs authorities, and investigative capabilities to continue to look at the TCOs supply and distribution chains, while taking dangerous, destructive, and deadly drugs off our streets together with the violence that comes with the illicit activities of these criminal enterprises. HSI Arizona has dedicated groups of special agents assigned to combat drug and human smuggling as well as southbound weapons and bulk cash smuggling.

“HSI stands at the ready to continue dedicating our resources, unique customs authorities and investigative capabilities toward joining our federal partners in not only disrupting the trafficking of lethal drugs into our country but capturing and prosecuting the plaza bosses who profit from poisoning our communities,” said HSI Countering Transnational Organized Crime Assistant Director Ricardo Mayoral. “We will leverage the combined strength of our partnered efforts to relentlessly pursue, disrupt and dismantle one of the most prolific and violent cartels in the world.”

With the launch of its updated Fentanyl Strategy CBP Strategy to Combat Fentanyl and Other Synthetic Drugs Report in fall 2023, CBP has continued to look at innovative ways to stop fentanyl trafficking. The agency continues to utilize its unique authorities and resources as the nation’s border security agency to lead the whole-of-government approach to dismantling the means and methods of the production and distribution of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, in addition to its historic target of interdicting narcotics at the border of the United States.

CBP officials have previously targeted fentanyl interdictions along the southwest border of the United States during Operation Blue Lotus, Four Horsemen, and Rolling Wave as well as precursors and production materials used to make fentanyl during Operation Artemis. With this latest operation, CBP is utilizing another avenue to disrupt the networks that create and distribute these drugs.

CBP and DEA are also calling on the public to provide any relevant information they may have about Sergio Valenzuela Valenzuela, his movements, his associates, and his operation. Tips can be provided anonymously by calling or texting 619-540-6912 via phone, Telegram, WhatsApp and Signal. Information can also be submitted through Snapchat at narcos_tips or by using the Threema ID: 2VBZFZTY.

For more information about CBP’s efforts to combat fentanyl and other synthetic drugs, visit CBP Strategy to Combat Fentanyl and Other Synthetic Drugs Report.

View the Operation Plaza Spike press conference on DVIDS.

Last Modified: May 17, 2024