By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The alleged head of the Chicago-area branch of a Mexican drug cartel faces federal charges with seven others for a plot that involved carrying heroin and cocaine from Mexico to the United States in passenger buses, prosecutors said on Wednesday.
Pablo Vega Cuevas, 40, who prosecutors say leads the local cell of the Guerreros Unidos cartel, and his brother-in-law, Alexander Figueroa, 37, both of Aurora, Illinois, were arrested on Tuesday in Oklahoma, and three others were arrested in the Chicago area. Arrest warrants have been issued for three others, including one believed to be in Mexico.
The investigation led to the seizure of 68 kg of heroin, 9 kg of cocaine and more than $500,000 in cash, prosecutors said.
"These arrests will have a significant impact on the supply and distribution of heroin and cocaine throughout the Midwest," Dennis Wichern, special agent-in-charge of the Chicago division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said in a statement.
Vega worked with narcotics sources in Mexico to import wholesale amounts of narcotics, concealed in commercial passenger buses to Chicago, prosecutors said.
The drugs were stored in warehouses in the western suburbs of Aurora and Batavia, and cash proceeds collected on behalf of Guerreros Unidos, according to prosecutors.
Mexico has arrested Guerreros Unidos members for suspected involvement in the kidnapping of dozens of student teachers who disappeared in September and are feared massacred.
Lawyers for Vega and Figueroa were not immediately known. Lawyers for the three men arrested in the Chicago area were not available for comment.
Vega, Figueroa and five other defendants were charged with a conspiracy heroin trafficking charge, which carries a sentence of 10 years to life in prison and a $10 million fine. An eighth defendant, Isaias Mandujuano, faces a lesser trafficking charge and could receive five to 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine if convicted.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Peter Cooney)