The people charged in indictments returned Thursday were arrested in August as part of the government's Operation Coronado, an effort launched in 2007 to break La Familia's grip on the U.S. cocaine market.
The cartel is named for the State of Michoacan in southwestern Mexico and is accused by federal prosecutors of being responsible for hauling vast quantities of cocaine into the United States from south of the border.
Drug Enforcement Agency officials have arrested more than 300 people in 19 states as part of the operation, prosecutors said.
All 15 Chicago-area defendants were charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine in multi-kilogram quantities. The charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life plus a $4 million fine.
Among those charged were the two men identified as leaders of the distribution network in the Chicago area, Jorge Luis Torres-Galvan, 31, of Danforth, and Jose Gonzalez-Zavala, 37, of Joliet.