The United States sanctions the Mexican drug cartel Familia Michoacana

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MEXICO CITY – The US Treasury Department on Thursday announced sanctions against the Mexican drug cartel Familia Michoacana, which it accused of manufacturing “rainbow” fentanyl pills allegedly meant for children.

The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, froze any US property of the Hurtado brothers, the leaders of the cartel, and prohibited US citizens from having dealings with them.

The cartel is based in the southern state of Guerrero and is often known as “The New Michoacan Family,” to distinguish them from an older gang that was largely pushed out of the western state of Michoacan in the mid-2010s.

“Not only does this cartel traffick fentanyl, which claimed the lives of more than 108,000 Americans last year, but it now markets ‘rainbow fentanyl’ as part of a deliberate effort to drive addiction among children and young adults,” the Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson said in a statement.

There has been debate whether the multicolored fentanyl pills that have appeared on the US market are designed to appeal to teenagers and young adults or simply to distinguish the gang’s brand.

Mexican cartels usually ship counterfeit blue fentanyl pills to the United States to look like Xanax, Adderall or Oxycodone. Synthetic opioid overdoses kill tens of thousands of Americans each year, in part because many who take the pills do not know they are taking fentanyl.

Thursday’s sanctions were directed at José Alfredo Hurtado, who leads the Familia Michoacana along with his brother Johnny Hurtado. The Treasury Department says the cartel also traffics meth, heroin and cocaine.

Their gang has been active in Guerrero and the neighboring states of Morelos, Mexico and Michoacan, and is known to be notoriously violent.

In October, authorities said the massacre of 20 citizens in the Guerrero town of Totolapan appeared to have been the work of José Alfredo Hurtado, who sought to use social media to blame a rival gang.

The October 5 attack in the city of Totolapan killed the city’s mayor, his father and 18 other men. Responsibility for the attack was originally claimed in a video attributed to a nearly extinct gang known as the Tequileros. The men in the dark and shady video said they carried out the attack and were retaking Totolapan.

The Tequileros had long terrorized the city, but years earlier they had been hunted down by a vigilante group believed to be backed by the Familia Michoacana, which dominates the area.

José Alfredo Hurtado posted a video several days later saying he was the intended target of the shooting and had narrowly escaped. But officials said later that the leader’s group likely carried out the killings.

News reports had reported that the Hurtado brothers may have been upset because the mayor of Totolapan and the vigilante group he apparently led rejected the leaders’ choice of another man to lead the city.

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