March 1, 2024

US designates members and companies associated with the Los Pochos Drug Trafficking Organization

On February 28, 2024, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated 3 members of Los Pochos Drug Trafficking Organization (“DTO”) as well as 4 affiliated companies based in Guatemala.  OFAC also re-designated Los Pochos pursuant to Executive Order 14059 in response to an alleged change in the organization’s leadership and its members’ involvement in local Guatemalan politics.  The DTO was originally sanctioned in 2019 under the Kingpin Act.  OFAC reported that the Los Pochos DTO is based in Guatemala and is associated with Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, one of the most notorious DTOs in the world.  According to OFAC, Los Pochos is engaged in the trafficking of cocaine from Guatemala through Mexico and into the United States with the help of corrupt public officials in Guatemala, including police officers, military officers and prosecutors.  Among the new designees is Los Pochos leader Juan Jose Morales Cifuentes and his wife Isel Aneli Suñiga Morfin, the new mayor of Ayultla who once represented Guatemala as Miss Universe contestant in 2017.  Suñiga Morfin is a public figure who allegedly uses her political connections to support Los Pochos and protect the organization’s interests.

In June 2023, Morales Cifuentes was indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas for multiple crimes, including conspiracy to manufacture and distribute cocaine and having reasonable cause to believe that cocaine would unlawfully imported to the United States.  He was arrested by Guatemalan authorities in December 2023 and is currently awaiting extradition to the United States.

All of the designations were imposed pursuant to Executive Oder 14059, for engaging in activities that materially contributed to the international proliferation of illicit drugs or their means of production.  As a result of the designations, all property and interests in property of the designated persons within the United States or within the possession or control of a U.S. person are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions involving a designated person.  Entities owned 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.

U.S. Department of Treasury Press Release | OFAC Los Pochos DTO Chart