clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

'El Chapo,' Chicago's Public Enemy No. 1, nabbed in Mexico

Mexican drug kingpin “El Chapo,” labeled Chicago’s Public Enemy No. 1, is back in custody after a shootout in Mexico.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto announced Friday that fugitive drug lord Joaquin El Chapo Guzman was recaptured six months after he escaped from a maximum-security prison.

“Mission accomplished: we have him,” Pena Nieto wrote.

Law enforcement sources say there’s a good chance Mexican authorities might extradite the Sinaloa Cartel leader to Chicago after he embarrassed Mexico with his bold escape in July.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch released a statement praising Mexico for the capture, but she didn’t broach whether the United States will ask Mexico to turn over El Chapo.

The arrest was a “blow to the international drug-trafficking syndicate he is alleged to have led, a victory for the citizens of both Mexico and the United States, and a vindication of the rule of law in our countries,” she said.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration echoed her statement, saying, “The DEA and Mexico have a strong partnership and we will continue to support Mexico in its efforts to improve security for its citizens and continue to work together to respond to the evolving threats posed by transnational criminal organizations.”

Guzman faces criminal charges in Chicago, New York and other U.S. cities.

Vicente Zambada-Niebla, the son of one of Guzman’s top associates, is in custody in the Chicago case. Zambada, a high-ranking cartel member, pleaded guilty in 2013 and is cooperating against Guzman and other cartel members — making the Chicago case among the strongest in the country.

Drugs were shipped in 747 cargo jets, ships, trains and even submarines before they made their way to Chicago, authorities say.

One of El Chapo’s relatives was sentenced to prison in the United States for playing a role in his vast drug business. In New Hampshire, his cousin Jesus Manuel Gutierrez-Guzman got 16 years in prison in August for working with El Chapo to distribute heroin to Spain. The FBI paid an informant more than $100,000 to help with the case.

Gutierrez-Guzman met with El Chapo in 2010 at his mountaintop headquarters in Culiacan, Mexico, and the drug lord agreed to ship cocaine to undercover FBI employees he believed were Italian mobsters, authorities said. The deal culminated in 346 kilos of cocaine being delivered to the FBI in 2012, records show.

Despite the cases against El Chapo in other cities, Peter Bensinger, the former head of the DEA and a Chicago-area resident, said he should face trial here.

“We’ve got a very strong case against him. They even have him on tape. Chicago is a logical place for him. It’s the main redistribution place for his poison. Obviously it’s one of the key problem areas for heroin in the country,” Bensinger said.

An official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to be quoted by name said Guzman was apprehended after a shootout with Mexican marines in the city of Los Mochis, in Guzman’s home state of Sinaloa.

He said Guzman was taken alive and was not wounded.

Responding to what was seen as one of the biggest embarrassments of his administration — Guzman’s July 11 escape through a tunnel from Mexico’s highest-security prison — Pena Nieto wrote in his Twitter account on Friday: “I would like to inform Mexicans that Joaquin Guzman Loera has been detained.”

Five people were killed and one Mexican marine wounded in the clash.

The Mexican Navy said in a statement that marines acting on a tip raided a home in Los Mochis before dawn. They were fired on from inside the structure. Five suspects were killed and six others were arrested. The marine’s injuries were not life-threatening.

At the home, marines seized two armored vehicles, eight rifles, one handgun and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

Photos of the arms seized in the raid suggested that Guzman and his associates had a fearsome arsenal at the nondescript white house.

Two of the rifles seized were .50-caliber sniper guns, capable of penetrating most bullet-proof vests and cars. The grenade launcher was found loaded, with an extra round nearby. And an assault rifle had a .40 mm grenade launcher and at least one grenade.

The Chicago Crime Commission named Guzman Public Enemy No. 1 in Chicago a year before his capture in 2014. It was the first time the label had been used since the Prohibition-era gangster Al Capone. Guzman was given the notorious title again after his July prison breakout.

In July, Guzman escaped through a 1-mile-long tunnel from an opening in the shower area of his cell, according to the country’s top security official. A ladder led to a 30-foot-deep tunnel.

Margarito and Pedro Flores — twin brothers who grew up in Chicago — played key roles in helping bring down more than 60 Sinaloa-connected players in an indictment that included Guzman.

They worked with Guzman to ship tons of drugs from Mexico to Chicago. At their peak, they were importing 1,500 kilograms of cocaine and heroin into the United States every month.

They visited Guzman’s mountain lair in Culiacan and secretly recorded top cartel lieutenants including El Chapo himself in two phone conversations, in which he was implicated in a heroin deal on the West Side.

The brothers became government informants and helped the feds seize 15 kilograms of heroin in Chicago in October 2008 and 12 kilograms in Cicero in November 2008, court records show.

In January 2015, they were each sentenced to 14 years in prison and have been in federal protection since then.

Bensinger, the former DEA chief, served under Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan from 1976 to 1981. He said Guzman reminds him of Jaime Herrera-Nevarez, who was touted as the “Godfather” of Mexican heroin trafficking in the 1970s.

“Don Jaime” was a former Mexican federal police officer who smuggled huge quantities of narcotics from Mexico to Chicago, authorities said. He was busted in 1978 in Mexico, but released when his accusers recanted their story, according to newspaper stories at the time.

Now that Guzman has been captured, Bensinger urged President Barack Obama to reach out to Mexico’s president to congratulate him and ask for help in reducing the supply of heroin in that country.

“I have an urgent plea for the president of the United States to call President Nieto to spray those poppy fields in Mexico because people are dying at a rate of 30 a day in the United States from heroin overdoses,” Bensinger said.

Contributing: Associated Press