Suspected El Chapo rival, cartel boss appears in North Dakota federal court

Juan Sillas-Rocha is allegedly responsible for dozens of deaths and leading a drug ring that sent meth, cocaine and marijuana to the Red River Valley.

Cassl County Jail
We are part of The Trust Project.

MOORHEAD — A suspected Mexican cartel leader who allegedly rivaled El Chapo and had connections to a fatal shooting of an East Grand Forks, Minnesota, man nearly 20 years ago has been extradited to North Dakota on federal charges.

Juan Francisco Sillas-Rocha appeared Friday, Sept. 9, in Fargo on federal counts of conspiracy to possess drugs with intent to distribute, continuing a criminal enterprise and conspiracy to commit murder. He is being held at the Cass County Jail.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in North Dakota declined to comment on the case. Cass County Jail Administrator Andrew Frobig deferred comments about whether Sillas-Rocha would remain at the jail to the U.S. Marshals Service.

A representative with the federal law enforcement agency did not return messages left by The Forum.

The case was first filed in 2008. A federal indictment filed in March 2011 gave more detail on how Sillas-Rocha allegedly led a drug ring from 2002 into early 2011. The opertation included bringing large amounts of meth, cocaine and marijuana from Mexico and the West Coast to the Red River Valley, an indictment said.


Silla-Rocha oversaw 29 people in the drug enterprise, according to the indictment.

Court documents alleged he and others used violence and threats to promote drug trafficking, including murder, kidnapping and assault.

Prosecutors alleged he tried to hire a hit squad to kill multiple people, including a disabled girl’s family. It doesn’t appear the intended targets were killed.

The court documents weren’t unsealed until 2017.

Sillas-Rocha was arrested in 2011 by Mexican authorities, and law enforcement said he was responsible for the deaths of dozens of people. The Grand Forks Herald reported in 2017 that Sillas-Rocha was jailed in Mexico and was fighting extradition to the U.S.

He has been identified as a top contributor for the Arellano Felix cartel, which was in competition with the Sinaloa cartel headed by drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman. Also known as “El Chapo,” Guzman is serving a life sentence in prison for his part in leading his criminal syndicate.

In Mexico, Sillas-Rocha is known for his 2008-2010 feud with a former Arellano-Felix member that engulfed Tijuana, resulting in a staggering death toll, according to Borderland Beat, a blog covering the Mexican drug war. By 2011, the cartel abandoned him.

Media reports said he violated a truce with the El Chapo.


Drug dealers allegedly working for him were convicted in 2008 of murdering Lee Avila in his East Grand Forks mobile home. The death was part of an investigation into a federal bust of a cartel-connected drug ring. Authorities dubbed the investigation, "Operation Speed Racer."

Court documents alleged Sillas-Rocha was involved in a drug ring led by Jorge "Sneaky" Manuel Arandas , who was convicted of ordering Avila's death. A hit man shot Avila nine times in front of his children after he didn't pay for five pounds of meth that came from Sillas-Rocha, according to court documents.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
What to read next
Respiratory syncytial virus, which continues spreading in the area, can cause serious breathing difficulties in very young children with tiny airways that can become obstructed.