‘El Raton,’ son of cartel kingpin ‘El Chapo,’ appears in chains at his arraignment in Chicago

Ovidio Guzman Lopez, 33, is charged with taking over a ruthless Mexican cartel that trafficked drugs into Chicago and the U.S.

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Ovidio Guzmán López llegó al Aeropuerto O’Hare el viernes, según la oficina del fiscal federal en Chicago.

This frame grab from video, provided by the Mexican government, shows Ovidio Guzman Lopez being detained Oct. 17, 2019, in Culiacan, Mexico.

AP

After years allegedly at the top of an international drug cartel run by his father — and after a pair of gun battles with authorities trying to arrest him that left nearly 40 people dead — one of the sons of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera appeared before a federal judge in Chicago on Monday.

Ovidio Guzman Lopez, 33, walked into a courtroom at the Dirksen Federal Building wearing an orange jumpsuit and chains around his ankles. He spoke softly, listening to Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman and his lawyer through a translator, and entered a plea of not guilty to the five counts against him, including two that carry a sentence of up to life in prison. Asked if he could understand what the judge was saying, Guzman replied in English, “of course.”

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Guzman Lopez, also known as “El Raton” or “The Mouse,” spoke through an interpreter as he pleaded not guilty to charges that he was a key player in the Sinaloa Cartel’s violent drug trafficking network. He waived his right to a detention hearing and will be held without bond. His next court appearance was set for November.

Wearing glasses, he told the judge he was taking medication for anxiety, depression and a stomach ailment. His lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, who also represented Guzman Lopez’s father, said Guzman Lopez had stomach surgery last year.

Guzman Lopez and his brothers Ivan Archivaldo Guzman Salazar, Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar and Joaquin Guzman Lopez — known as “Los Chapitos” — are charged in a sweeping indictment with coordinating shipments of drugs from countries in Central America and South America after their father was jailed.

El Chapo is serving a life sentence in the federal “supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado. Guzman’s three brothers remain at large.

Several of the counts against Guzman Lopez carry life sentences. One count carries a potential death penalty: Guzman Lopez’s alleged role as the leader of a criminal enterprise that trafficked more than $10 million per year in illegal drugs.

But Assistant U.S Attorney Andrew Erskine said that, under an agreement that led to Guzman Lopez’s extradition from Mexico, prosecutors will not seek a death sentence.

The Chicago case alleges that the cartel trafficked cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana throughout the Chicago area.

Announcing the charges, and charges filed simultaneously in federal courts in New York and Washington, D.C., Attorney General Merrick Garland called the illegal enterprise “the largest, most violent and most prolific fentanyl trafficking operation in the world — run by the Sinaloa cartel, and fueled by Chinese precursor chemical and pharmaceutical companies.”

In 2019, an attempt to arrest Guzman Lopez in western Mexico on other federal charges led to the “Battle of Culiacan,” where hundreds of heavily armed cartel enforcers blocked streets and engaged in running gun battles with members of the Mexican military and law enforcement, leaving at least 13 people dead before Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador ordered Guzman Lopez’s release.

Similar fighting broke out when the Mexican military moved to arrest Guzman Lopez in a small town outside Culiacan in January, with authorities using a helicopter to extract the alleged kingpin and take him immediately to Mexico City. Cartel gunmen fired on military aircraft and also struck a passenger airliner during a shootout at the airport in Culiacan. Ten soldiers and 19 cartel suspects were killed in the fighting, Mexican authorities said. Guzman Lopez arrived at O’Hare Airport Friday, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago.

The indictment states that Guzman Lopez and other cartel leaders were responsible for murder, kidnapping and assault against law enforcement, rivals and members of their own cartel.

A U.S. State Department release announcing a $5 million reward for Guzman Lopez said he had “ordered the murders of informants, a drug trafficker and a popular Mexican singer who had refused to sing at his wedding.” The release did not name the singer or say whether the killing was carried out as ordered.

Justice Department officials said cartel enemies were tortured with electrocution and waterboarding. Some rivals were fed alive to tigers that authorities said Ivan Archivaldo Guzman Salazar and Jesus Guzman Salazar kept on their ranches as pets.

In 2017, the cartel kidnapped two Mexican federal police officers, fatally shooting one and torturing the other by ripping his muscles from his arm and stuffing chili peppers into the wounds, authorities say.

Authorities say the brothers inherited relationships with suppliers from their deceased brother, Edgar Guzman Lopez. They bought marijuana in Mexico and cocaine in Colombia, as well as large amounts of ephedrine from Argentina to use in the manufacture of methamphetamine, authorities said.

The indictments charging Guzman Lopez and his brothers were filed under the same 2009 case in which his father and other top Sinaloa lieutenants were charged.

Frank Main and Jon Seidel contributed.

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