MCALLEN, Texas(Reuters) - U.S. authorities accused two dozen top bosses of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel, including leader Joaquin El Chapo Guzman, of murder, money laundering and racketeering while shipping tons of illicit drugs into the United States.
None of the defendants in the indictment unsealed on Tuesday have been arrested by U.S. authorities. The most serious charges carry maximum sentences of life in prison and millions of dollars in fines.
The U.S. government has offered a $5 million award for information leading to the capture of Guzman, who was previously indicted in California and Arizona.
The 28-page indictment filed April 11 in U.S. District Court in El Paso, Texas, targets Guzman and 23 other men with overseeing the cartel's primary task: moving thousands of pounds of narcotics into the United States.
The cartel kidnapped, tortured and murdered its enemies to further its operations in Mexico and the United States, according to the charges.
Also named in the indictment is Ismael "Mayo" Zambada Garcia, labeled as a co-leader of the Sinaloa cartel, named for the Pacific coast state where El Chapo — Spanish for "Shorty" — was born.
The court documents described how the two leaders carved out territory for lieutenants who oversee drug trafficking into the United States and launder the cash that comes back to Mexico.
The cartel employs assassination teams who gather information about rival cartels and discipline those who lose drug loads or show disloyalty, according to the documents. Discipline included kidnapping, torture and murdering the people responsible — or their families.
"Often, the murders involve extreme violence and a public display of the victim, including mutilation and dismemberment of body parts in some ritualistic or symbolic fashion and the display of banners bearing written warnings," according to the indictment.
The federal indictment comes amid growing pressure on the Mexican government to go after the Sinaloa cartel ahead of the country's presidential elections later this year.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon pledged upon taking office in 2006 to defeat the cartels. But widespread bloodshed and the deaths of more than 50,000 people in drug-related violence since he took office illustrate how the cartels have continued to thrive.
Forbes has ranked Guzman 41st on its list of the world's most powerful people.
Beyond Guzman and Zambada, the indictment targeted the Sinaloa cartel's top lieutenants and former members of the Juarez cartel, some of whom were former Mexican police officers who joined the organization.
One of the regional lieutenants, Jose Antonio Torres Marrufo, was accused of overseeing Juarez, where he commanded assassination squads, and directed cocaine and marijuana shipments into El Paso, Texas, marked with his jaguar symbol.
The indictment accused Torres of ordering several men to kidnap a man from a town outside of El Paso who had lost hundreds of pounds of the cartel's marijuana. He was taken to Juarez, where he was interrogated and murdered.
The man's body was found beaten and strangled, his hands severed above the wrists and placed on his chest to serve as a warning to those who may try to steal from the cartel.
In another instance, authorities said Torres ordered a raid on a wedding in Juarez, where the groom, his brother, and an uncle were hauled away and murdered.
(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Eric Walsh)