By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors in San Diego unsealed 14 grand jury indictments on Friday against 60 members of Mexico's most powerful drug enterprise, the Sinaloa cartel, including many listed as among the group's leaders and top enforcers.
The cartel has smuggled tons of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine into the United States since the 1990s, primarily across the U.S.–Mexico border in California and Arizona. Border officials have said drug-smuggling tunnels under the border are the work of the cartel.
The 60 people named on Friday are charged with operating a criminal enterprise, conspiracy to import methamphetamine, marijuana and cocaine, conspiracy to distribute those drugs, conspiracy to launder money and importation of the drugs, according to the indictments.
Among those named are Ismael Zambada-Garcia, known as "El Mayo," who is at large and built the cartel with partner Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, who was arrested last year in Mexico and is under indictment on federal charges in Chicago.
Two of Zambada-Garcia's sons and one of Guzman's sons are also named.
The indictments stem from a three-year investigation. Many of those indicted are already in federal custody or on the run in Mexico, and the indictments allow U.S. authorities to begin extradition proceedings, prosecutors said.
"The DEA and our law enforcement partners will continue to target and investigate this violent and dangerous cartel until its worldwide operations are completely dismantled," Drug Enforcement Agency San Diego special agent in charge William Sherman said in a statement.
The investigation began in the Southern California cities of Chula Vista and National City with a probe of what appeared to be a small drug distribution ring that law enforcement later determined was tied to the cartel, prosecutors said.
The investigation grew to encompass major U.S. cities including Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.
The cartel is alleged to have smuggled cocaine, heroin, marijuana and the chemicals used to make methamphetamine from Asian and Latin American countries into Mexico, then exporting the product to the United States across the U.S. southern border.
Investigators recovered 3,642 pounds (1,652 kg) of meth, 2,961 pounds (1,343 kg) of cocaine, and 12.2 tons of marijuana, as well as $14.1 million in currency in the course of the investigation, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
About half of the 60 people named in the indictments are fugitives, including one of Zambada-Garcia's sons. Five are in Mexican custody and 25 are in U.S. custody, prosecutors said.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)