The escape of a Sinaloa drug cartel leader from a maximum-security prison in Mexico sent ripples of outrage Sunday through Chicago’s law enforcement community who long had argued Chicago should get first crack at Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who is charged in perhaps the most important narcotics case ever brought here.
The Chicago Crime Commission was poised to name Guzman again Public Enemy No. 1 in Chicago.
“There is no question that’s what the Chicago Crime Commission is going to do,” said Arthur Bilek, the crime commission’s executive vice president said Sunday. The commission is expected to make an announcement early this week.
When the group attached the Public Enemy label to Guzman a year before his capture in 2014, it was the first time it had been used since the Prohibition-era gangster Al Capone.
“The fact that El Chapo was able to get out of the most secure prison in Mexico positively convinces me that El Chapo should not be being held in Mexico,” Bilek added.
“If the Attorney General does not demand his return to the United States, the attorney general is not doing her job,” he said.
Washington’s official response was diplomatic, as Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement that the U.S. shared “Mexico’s concern regarding the escape” and stood by to help in the manhunt.
It’s the second time Guzman has escaped from a so-called maximum security prison in Mexico. In the latest instance, he escaped Saturday through a 1 mile tunnel from a small opening in the shower area of his cell, according to the country’s top security official.
Guzman dropped by ladder into a hole 30 feet deep that connected with a tunnel about 5 feet-6 inches high that was fully ventilated and had lighting.
Former DEA Administrator and Chicago-area resident Peter Bensinger called Guzman’s second escape from a Mexican prison “a travesty of justice.”
“This is not ‘Shawshank Redemption,’ this is not somebody with a ball peen hammer,” Bensinger told the Sun-Times Sunday.
“This is a tunnel that is one and half kilometers there, he had to have help inside and outside.”
“I just think this is something the president of the United States needs to address,” he said.
Twin brothers who were the biggest drug dealers the Chicago played key roles in helping bring down more than 60 Sinaloa-connected players in an indictment that included Guzman.
Brothers Pedro and Margarito Flores were sentenced to just 14 years behind bars in January for their extraordinary cooperation, despite moving $1.8 billion in cocaine and heroin through Chicago, making it the hub of the Sinaloa cartel’s U.S. distribution network.
The brothers were so trusted as part of Guzman’s inner circle they were allowed to visit his mountain lair in Mexico. The brothers engaged in huge risks, including secretly recording high-ranking cartel lieutenants as well as “El Chapo” himself in two phone conversations, in which he was implicated in a heroin deal on the West Side.
Mexico mounted an all-out manhunt Sunday for “El Chapo,” whose elaborate underground escape route allowed Guzman to do what Mexican officials promised would never happen after his re-capture last year — slip out of one of the country’s most secure penitentiaries for the second time.
Guzman was last seen about 9 p.m. Saturday in the shower area of his cell, according to a statement from the National Security Commission. After a time, he was lost by the prison’s security camera surveillance network. Upon checking his cell, authorities found it empty.
Thirty employees from various part of the Altiplano prison, 55 miles west of Mexico City, have been taken in for questioning, according to the federal Attorney General’s Office.
If Guzman is not caught immediately, the drug lord will likely be back in full command and control of the Sinaloa Cartel in 48 hours, said Michael S. Vigil, a retired U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief of international operations.
“We may never find him again,” he said. “All the accolades that Mexico has received in their counterdrug efforts will be erased by this one event.”
Contributing: Kim Janssen, Frank Main, AP