The tentacles of a huge, powerful and violent drug cartel reach from Mexico into small cities and towns, the Louisville Courier Journal reports after a nine-month investigation in several states.

The "New Generation Jalisco Cartel," known by its Spanish name Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación and acronym CJNG, is headed by Rubén "Nemesio" Oseguera Cervantes, or "El Mencho," for whom the Drug Enforcement Administration is offering a $10 million reward.

"CJNG’s increased distribution of fentanyl across the country has helped the synthetic opioid unseat heroin as the nation’s No. 1 killer," Beth 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 even established a cell in south-central Virginia, buying or renting a cluster of modest homes in Axton — an unincorporated community of roughly 6,500. 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."

Warren writes, "The cartel's expansion into smaller, unexpected communities began to mushroom about five years ago as U.S. intelligence analysts tracked its movements far beyond border towns and major hubs. Smaller towns. Smaller police forces. More unchecked opportunities. . . . In Hickory, North Carolina: CJNG used local drug dealers to move meth into the poor, addicted mountain region."

Jaeson Jones, a former Texas Department of Public Safety captain who tracked drug cartels for years, "said CJNG and other cartels often use unlikely rural areas near cities for storing and distributing drugs, away from heavy policing and nosy neighbors," Warren writes. "Houses are cheap. Backroads, plentiful. Cartels often maintain several houses in such areas: One for the local boss and his family, and another where the drugs come in and get cut up and distributed, there's another to deal with the money, and another where cartel associates live, he said."

Andrew Nester, the state prosecutor in Henry County, Virginia, told the CJ, "It’s very rural, it’s very remote. Maybe that’s the draw. Once you’re established, no one talks." But Chris Kenning reports that after "a drug task force got an informant inside in the Axton area . . .investigators saw links stretching to Winchester" in northern Virginia. The package also includes reporting from Kala Kachmar in Hickory and Lenoir, N.C.