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on the border line between the US and Mexico

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

US Names Sinaloa Cartel's El Gigio as Responsible for 44% of Fentanyl Trafficking Last Year

"HEARST" for Borderland Beat

US Customs & Border Patrol stated they will start naming the Mexican cartel bosses who control certain regions south of the border in order to “to increase public and law enforcement pressure on them.”

They began with the Nogales region, naming Sinaloa Cartel’s Sergio Valenzuela Valenzuela, alias “El Gigio” - an old friend of Mayo Zambada. 

They also made clear why they were focusing on El Gigio first, above other cartel figures, stating that the plaza Gigio controls is responsible for the most fentanyl heading into the US, and "44% of the fentanyl being trafficked to the U.S.

CBP Announces They Are Going After El Gigio

On April 10, 2024, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced through a press release a multi-agency effort called Operation Plaza Spike which they say is meant to “target the cartels that facilitate the flow of deadly fentanyl.”

The operation is designed to “disrupt operations in the plazas, [in the] cartel territories located directly south of the United States that are natural logistical choke points within the cartels’ operations.”

The press release states the operation will include “releasing the name of the plazas’ senior ranking cartel officials, the plaza bosses, to increase public and law enforcement pressure on them.”

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas said the operation is a part of the department’s campaign which “directly attacks” cartel groups, saying “We are sparing no effort to dismantle cartels and ensure [that] everyone, from kingpins to plaza bosses, are brought to justice.”

The press release states that “CBP’s first target is the Nogales plaza [...] Sergio Valenzuela Valenzuela, aka Gio [or Gigio], the Nogales plaza boss, was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2018 for his role as a Sinaloa Cartel plaza boss.” 

Troy A. Miller, a CBP senior official, stated that “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 [...] Sergio Valenzuela Valenzuela is the first plaza boss that we target, but he won’t be the last.

The press release states “Valenzuela Valenzuela and his organization are allegedly 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.”

The press release ends with “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.”

How They Say This Operation Will Work

The CBP created a page on their website with more details on Operation Spike Plaza, including: 

How will Operation Plaza Spike work?  


CBP can converge and focus resources on a natural logistical chokepoint within the cartel's operation and severely hinder its top money-making scheme. Operation Plaza Spike will have three key lines of effort: 


1. Intelligence
2. Disrupt and Degrade Operations
3. Deliver Legal Consequences

CBP and partners will support ongoing investigations tied to both plaza operations as well as the plaza boss.

CBP will also focus on the outbound illegal exportation of weapons and currency from the U.S. to the cartels in Mexico, severely hampering their ability to wage violence in furtherance of their drug and human trafficking empire.

CBP will use a variety of actions and authorities, including revoking visas from known associates, scrutinizing related cross-border business entities and cross-border trade, seizing illicit proceeds, and more.

CBP will leverage partnerships, authorities, and resources of other government agencies.” 


They also included their definition of a plaza, stating:

A plaza is a specific territory controlled by a cartel in Mexico, located in a strategic geographic location, often directly south of a U.S. border crossing. There are 27 plazas operating in Mexico. Plaza bosses: high-ranking cartel official who controls all illicit activity through the plaza – extortion, kidnapping, and the trafficking of humans, dangerous drugs, and firearms."

It's interesting to note that the CBP’s definition of plaza doesn’t really line up with how the term is used in cartel news. Plazas are traditionally thought of as specific areas which have cartel activity controlled by a boss, yes, but not necessarily “often directly south of the border.” It’s a word that equates to territory or turf, and they occur all across Mexico. 

And furthermore, the idea that there are only 27 plazas doesn’t really seem to match how most people use the term. Keep in mind that there are 31 states in Mexico and most people would say there is at least one plaza (if not many more) within each state, so it’ll be interesting to see if CBP adjusts how they are using the term or clarify that they meant 27 plazas that are significant to US drug trafficking. 

The CBP web page ends with:

“Nothing happens in the plaza without the plaza boss knowing about, directing it, or taking a cut. Sergio Valenzuela Valenzuela heads the plaza responsible for the most fentanyl heading to the U.S. in Nogales, Mexico. He and his organization are responsible for 44% of the fentanyl being trafficked to the U.S., the deadliest drug we have yet to encounter.”

The Press Conference Held by CBP, HSI and the DEA

On April 10, Troy A. Miller, the acting commissioner of the CBP, held a press conference (video) at the Nogales Port of Entry to formally announce the operation. He was joined by representatives of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). 

After giving a statement about Operation Plaza Spike, he made statements specifically naming the Sinaloa Cartel and El Gigio, saying “We know this plaza is under the control of the Sinaloa Cartel plaza boss named Sergio Valenzuela Valenzuela, also known as ‘Gio’.” 

Miller handed it off to DEA Deputy Chief of Operations James Nunnallee, who made similar statements and he specifically named El Gigio in his comments as well. 

Then it opened up for a question and answer session with reporters. Reporters asked some pretty standard questions about how this operation was going to be different from previous ones and Miller gave some expected answers about interagency collaboration and resource efficiency, as well as talking about working with their law enforcement counterparts in Mexico. 

A KVOA reporter asked him about the most common method that Gigio’s group uses to smuggle fentanyl through the Tucson sector of the border. 

Miller answered that the most common way was through ports of entry in Nogales, with “vehicles, mostly small loads, pills - mostly pills. 90% of the seizures that we’re seeing across the southwest happen at ports of entry. 44% right here, at this port.” 

When asked about fentanyl detecting technology, Miller mentioned that both ports of entry in Nogales (Mariposa and DeConcini) have  Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) technology. 

These are things like large-scale X-rays, Gamma-ray systems, and handheld scanners. Miller mentioned that 50% of all traffic which goes through Nogales Mariposa is screened. 

Of note, there was a proposed congressional bill (S.1822) which would require CBP to use such systems on 40% of passenger vehicles and 90% of commercial vehicles entering the United States. The Budget Office estimated that it would cost about 982 million (of appropriated funds) for the CBP to reach these numbers. But the bill hasn’t seen much activity since October of last year. 

Despite the CBP saying they wish to increase public pressure on plaza bosses, the CBP has not published any photos of Gigio on their website or included any photos of him within their press release. 

A graphic representing Operation Spike Plaza was printed out and displayed at the press conference but, no images of Gigio were displayed during the press conference either.

It's unclear if this was a simple oversight or a deliberate decision made to appease the Mexican government, which has various laws about a civilian’s right to not have their unblurred photo published prior to being convicted of a crime (note that Gigio is simply indicted, not convicted).

Although it wasn't mentioned by the CBP, it's important to note that El Gigio is believed to be a direct report of Mayo Zambada and Mayo’s son Ismael Zambada Sicairos, “Mayito Flaco”, his heir apparent. 

The Fentanyl Smuggling at the Nogales Border

On April 8, 2024, Port Director Michael Humphries announced on Twitter a number of large fentanyl seizures which had taken place during the course of 4 days. 

On March 26, approximately 166,270 fentanyl laced pills were discovered by CBP officers. The pills appear to have been pressed to look like blue oxycodone M30 tablets, which seems fairly common for fentanyl pills. The pills were found hidden inside plastic bags, within a microwave.

On March 28, approximately 661,050 fentanyl pills and 3.9lbs of meth were found by CBP officers inside a deflated bounce house - the type that are rented out for children’s birthday parties and fairs.

Then, on March 29, officers found 362,700 fentanyl pills hidden inside the doors and firewall of a vehicle that was attempting to cross the Nogales border crossing.

This means that, over the course of those four days, CBP officers seized a total of 1,190,020 or 1.1 million fentanyl pills which were being smuggled across the border. And, as is inevitable, these seizures represent the fentanyl they managed to find. There’s a decent possibility that some managed to slip through the border unnoticed during this same time frame.

Of note, in 2021, DEA lab testing found that 4 out of every 10 seized fentanyl pills contained a potentially lethal amount of fentanyl, 2 mg of fentanyl equates to a potentially deadly dose. 

In 2023, that same testing found that 7 out of every 10 contained a potentially lethal dose. 

If we apply this to the number of pills seized during those four days in Nogales, then CBP seized approximately 833,014 potentially lethal doses. 

It is worth noting that this testing refers to 2 mg of fentanyl as a potentially deadly dose and chronic opioid users are known to build up a tolerance to the effects of opioids, which leads to dose escalation, so a lethal dosage will end up varying person to person. 

It's hard to judge if these 4 days of seizures are considered to be a spike in how much is being smuggled, or in any way statistically anomalous.

The amount of pedestrian, vehicular and commercial traffic which goes through each port of entry differs by location and the busier ports of entry tend to see higher seizure numbers. However the amount of traffic experienced also changes with the seasons.

But here’s one thing that’s a bit easier to determine: for the first time - in 2023, more fentanyl was seized at Arizona border crossings than at the San Diego-Tijuana border crossing.

Some things to note: Most of the fentanyl which is smuggled through Nogales isn’t produced in Nogales nor is it necessarily produced by Gigio’s men.

The act of transporting fentanyl across the US is one step within a much larger process - a process which involves importing precursor chemicals that are needed for production, production of fentanyl itself, and then smuggling it across Mexico to a location which is near the US border.

There are locations all across Mexico where fentanyl is produced. It actually used to be somewhat uncommon to see drug labs in Sonora producing fentanyl, however, over the last year, there may have been a shift. 

There have been rumors that the Sinaloa Cartel (and in particular the Chapito brothers) has been trying to move their existing fentanyl production from Sinaloa to Sonora in order to draw law enforcement attention away from their home state. 

Also of note, there are some claims online that Gigio allows drugs from both the Mayo faction and the Chapitos faction to be smuggled through Nogales, meaning that although Gigio may be a Mayo faction plaza boss, he may allow the Chapitos faction to operate and smuggle within his territory.

A review of El Gigio's criminal history and more details about the men who work under him to follow.

Sources: CBP Nogales Twitter Post 1, Post 2 Post 3, Post 4, DEA Fentanyl Fact Sheet 2021, DEA One Pill 2023, Wiley, AZPM, DVIDS, Tucson Sentinel, Arizona Daily Star,
CBP Press ReleasePage on Operation Plaza Spike


  1. Pinche apodo pero bien mamila.

  2. It almost seems like they want an excuse not to go as hard on the manufacturers AKA Chapitos and Mayo.

    1. Exactly chapitos gave up nini now is el mayo turn and they been talking so much about el yiyo lately to make it look like they caught someone relevant when in reality he's just a fat slob that messes with whores from nogales

    2. No they just agreed that going after the big players doesnt change the game, but if you put pressure on the border plazas, you can stop drugs.

    3. They got chapo and nothing changed they get leaders and nothing changes.

      To dismantle cartel strong holds
      You need to go after the lower ranks .

    4. 542 his empire crumbled and his sons are running it into the ground so it wasn't all bad

    5. @ 7:00 maybe so but the flow of drugs hasnt slowed down one bit.. so much for the war on drugs.

    6. 7:00 his empire hasn't crumbled dummy according to DEA they are stronger

    7. Sure as cells break off and go independent

    8. How about El 20 who works with Yiyo

  3. Is el Tunco the one with the corrido "mi pasado mi presente" from traviezos?

  4. Glad el ratón is not snitching .

  5. Pura mayiza putos

  6. Mayo did not get the memo when Chapitos banned Fentanyl or he said the hell with them kids.

    1. 4:17 They each run their own faction they always have

  7. Those photos of the plaza bosses, not a smiley face in the bunch!
    They seem like some serious bad hombres..

  8. Man... forget you mayorkas , I swear these people today are puro payasos...all of them

  9. I sear it thought I read BB article Mayo warned chapitos kids not to manufactured fentanyl, but mayo telling his underling to sell fentanyl. Hmmmm

  10. If the MZ side of CDS was to join the war against the independent alliance. The independents would loose straight up

    1. I don't think that's going to happen kid sapitos have to fight they're own battles as they looking severely weakened.

    2. "cartel de sinaloa" don't exist anymore, there is a Truce in Culiacan but they are not united anymore.. even Mayo's people from Puerto Peñasco, Sonora participate in the HUNT and KILLING of el PIA and his people (Chapiza) in El Golfo De Santa Clara..

  11. US Customs & Border Patrol stated they will start naming the Mexican cartel bosses who control certain regions south of the border in order to “to increase public and law enforcement pressure on them.” oh NOWWWWWW they will why havnt they before. What a dog and poney show

    1. Pony 🐴 Show
      Not poney show 🤣.

  12. Our gov is a joke

    1. I concur. Elmo y Morena son corruptos de mierda!

  13. Their first list also contains

    Ma Barker
    Pablo Acosta Villarreal
    Jorge Jung
    Pedro Aviles Perez

    They aren’t messing around.

  14. Mayorkas should be on the list to for delirection of duty the border got way worst under him

    1. 7:10 I’m with you 100 percent. What he has allowed and done is criminal. It’s unsubstantial and combined With uncontrolled government spending, free money for breaking the law and over taxing honest workers and businesses will cause a collapse. In Indonesia if you tell people that you can enter America illegally, get health care and government assistance they can’t fathom why that is allowed. I left for Indonesia several years ago and i unless America changes this insane destruction leave. America is sill fixable but a few more years of this will cause a eventual hyperinflation and collapse.

    2. 12:35
      Dude, stop with all the mopey doom and gloom nightmare scenarios, think more like a GRINGO, and assume everything will turn out all right!
      We're the ones that put men on the moon!
      We got this, no manches!

    3. Don't go back to Indonesia, we need guys like you in the states, it's been a melting pot since day one..
      It's kinda chaotic, like a beehive, you can get stung, but there's plenty of honey, you just gotta think positive..

  15. Just a fall guy for Mayos drugs

  16. This man would not have work if it wasnt for all the American loosers that are walking around doped out in front of 711

  17. Gigio? Deveria ser Puerquiyio 🐖🐷🐽😂🤣

  18. It just crosses thru his plaza he gets a quarter on every pill

  19. Hearst, thank you for this one. I like the small details like 982 mio spend on NII. They can make a difference when used. Doubt their 50% ratio of scanned vehicles, reminds me of the aerostats ballon’s back in the days to catch the small planes crossing the border.

  20. Heating up the Nogales East side of the tracks is no joke. Chapitos have the west side and they’re also heating things up. I think the Chapitos snitched on Gigio and now they have the US Gov “hunting him down.”

    1. SALAZARs are the ones that have the West Side of Nogales.. they even have a Tregua with el Gigio and his people.

  21. How much is 44% of fentanyl market worth? That guy would be able to buy countries. I call bs and absolutely just one fall guy.

    1. The fentanyl which crosses through Nogales isn't necessarily produced or "owned" by Gigio, nor even the faction of the Sinaloa Cartel he belongs to.

      He is simply in charge of the plaza which lies along the US border where some of it is smuggled into the US. He's basically in charge of one of the last steps in a much larger process.

      That being said, Gigio appears to be a pretty capable plaza boss. He keeps violence down in Nogales and his plaza largely stays out of the headlines (compare it to SLRC or Mexicali). He also manages to find a way to keep peace between the Mayo and Chapito smugglers within his city.

      So it is, in a way wrong to say, he's responsible for 44%, but it is right to say that something about the way he is leading his plaza has created a peaceful environment which allows many smugglers to flourish, which does make him responsible.

    2. @HEARST

      THANK YOU for clarifying that for me a bit more! And thank you again for every post you make here, I've always loved your reports and commitment!

      Best wishes!

    3. @HEARST

      Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that 44% of the US’ fentanyl supply comes through Nogales then? Of course Gigio is to blame for creating a semi-peaceful operating environment for the actual traffickers (of which he is far from the only in Nogales), but putting the full responsibility on Gigio himself masks a larger issue with much broader culpability.

    4. @11:58 I personally think that what you said is more accurate, yes. But the CBP webpage says "he and his organization are responsible for 44% of the fentanyl being trafficked to the US" so that's why I used that specific wording in my story title.

      It's hard to evaluate some of this stuff. More culpability for the production would be good, but I imagine the purview of the CBP means they're going to focus more on the actual smuggling and they'll leave the disruption of production more to agencies like the DEA.

      Sometimes I wonder if the border crossings dealing with larger groups of migrants have less officers available to perform searches on vehicles, so we get skewed data that doesn't represent the actual amount of drugs being crossed, it's just the ability of that location to perform searches.

      No matter what, I'm just happy anytime narcos are being named directly by government agencies.

    5. The video didnt say 44% of fentanyl in the US came from Gigio or the Nogales plaza.

      "90% of the seizures that we’re seeing across the southwest happen at ports of entry. 44% right here, at this port.”

      44% of seizures across the Southwest at that border port of entry. Doesn't account for other areas of the US or other ways fentanyl is coming in. So the % he is responsible for would be less than 44.

    6. they obviously can't have precise data since an unknown % is never intercepted..

    7. @ HEARST You said, "That being said, Gigio appears to be a pretty capable plaza boss. He keeps violence down in Nogales and his plaza largely stays out of the headlines (compare it to SLRC or Mexicali)."
      That's the difference when you have a boss in the Plaza and a working relationship. This is something that the Salazars need to learn. One hand washes the other.
      So, where do the Salazars fall into this picture? Would be nice if you could drop a few paragraphs on SLRC and Mexicali.

    8. @6:28
      I know reading comprehension isn't always the best on this website but I said it's a quote from the CBP webpage, which can be found here:

      "Sergio Valenzuela Valenzuela heads the plaza responsible for the most fentanyl heading to the U.S. in Nogales, Mexico. He and his organization are responsible for 44% of the fentanyl being trafficked to the U.S., the deadliest drug we have yet to encounter."

    9. @6:28
      And if you don't believe that quote is accurate to what they mean, check out the data yourself.

      I cut out a section I wrote about the total lbs of fentanyl seized in 2023 and how much of it was in the Tucson Sector & Tucson Field Office (under the Area of Responsibility tab).

  22. Next they need to go after the Agua Prieta bosses: Marco Paredes Jr “Markitos”, Leonel Toscano-Cuevas “El Tigre”, Guadalue Cano-Soto “Guero Cano”, Elmer Cordova-Torres “El Pluma”, Jorge Alberto Martinez-Madero “Hatch”, Jose Samaniego-Bernal “Cholo Samaniego

    1. Doesn't markitos live in phoenix?

    2. Yes he does. He lives in San Tan Valley to be exact. Others I named above control the day to day activities in AP but Markitos is still pulling the strings.

    3. How about Manny Zambrano Tirado

    4. What about lil Eddie Perez

    5. You mean Eddie Munoz, fast eddie.

  23. This means it will take another five years before he's captured which is long enough for him to train his replacement.

  24. Need to go after Markitos toys

  25. Thats how a cartel in mexico suppossed to work. All the factions shld be able to send shit up north thru the border plazas they control. It dont matter whos drugs they are chapitos mayos or guanos. If this gigio ever gets cought they will make him an example. Any judge that gets the trial on usa will fucking bury him alive in the usa prison system like chapo is.

  26. dang Gigio has been so low-key for so long. Nogales is one of the most important border cities and we never hear much about it, I assume because Gigio has been doing a good job but looks like he's a big dog now and on the radar. Mayo will prolly give up his location real soon.

  27. Nogales will never give up Gio. Mayo however.. 50/50

  28. Paredes is going to take over Nogales


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