Louisville newspaper tracks huge, powerful and violent drug cartel’s invasion of small towns in Kentucky and other states

Courier Journal illustration shows farm worker who oversaw flow of $30 million in drugs into Kentucky.
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The tentacles of a huge, powerful and violent drug cartel reach from Mexico into unlikely places in Kentucky and other states, Beth Warren reports for the Louisville Courier Journal.

The “New Generation Jalisco Cartel,” is known by its Spanish name, Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación and its acronym. “CJNG’s increased distribution of fentanyl across the country has helped the synthetic opioid unseat heroin as the nation’s No. 1 killer,” Warren writes. “The billion-dollar criminal organization has a large and disciplined army, control of extensive drug routes throughout the U.S., sophisticated money-laundering techniques and an elaborate digital terror campaign, federal drug agents say.”

CJNG’s network reaches into “the mountains of Virginia, small farming towns in Iowa and Nebraska, and across the Bluegrass State” of Kentucky, Warren reports. “A cartel member even worked at Kentucky’s famed Calumet Farm, home to eight Kentucky Derby and three Triple Crown winners. . . . CJNG members have followed relatives or friends who left Mexico for the U.S. to find jobs. The cartel exploits its connections with otherwise hard-working immigrants, said Dan Dodds, who leads DEA operations in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Ciro Macias Martinez, now serving a 31-year prison term, “led a double life, working as a horse groomer by day and overseeing the flow of $30 million worth of drugs into Kentucky by night before being imprisoned in 2018 for meth trafficking and money laundering, federal records show,” Warren writes. “No sooner had authorities busted Kentucky’s CJNG ring than the cartel replaced Macias, sending in another team. It hauled in more than 3 kilos of fentanyl, the synthetic opioid so potent that an amount as small as Abraham Lincoln’s cheek on a penny can be fatal.”

In Paducah, sheriff’s investigators said the cartel warned a business owner who fell behind on a drug debt, “If we don’t get our money, we’re gonna kill you and your family.” Russell Coleman, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, said, “We’re fighting a war for our families, and (the cartels) are winning.”

CJ Editor Rick Green explained to readers that the paper made the effort because “It’s a local story.”