Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman formally charged with drug trafficking

The ABC7 I-Team has been looking into what happens next for the world's wealthiest drug lord known as El Chapo.
February 24, 2014 4:22:47 PM PST
The ABC7 I-Team is following developments in the case of the man known as El Chapo. The drug kingpin was formally charged Monday with drug trafficking, clearing the way for his extradition to the United States.

For somebody nicknamed "Shorty," Joaquin Guzman was living tall on the billions in drug money he made during a career as leader of the Sinaloa cartel. A good portion of his income was financed by street drug sales in Chicago, the cartel's main hub in a heroin and cocaine distribution network that took a blow on Saturday morning.

You wouldn't have expected one of the world's wealthiest businessmen to be staying at this this less-than-five-star hotel on the Mazatlan, Mexico beachfront. And when authorities busted through the door of room 401, they found El Chapo's room in need of maid service. Investigators noted the fruit on the kitchen counter, several cucumbers and bananas-- also the drug lord's produce of choice for hiding shipments of cocaine.

"The Sinaloa Cartel is the most significant cartel that impacts on Chicago. They are very active. They've taken on Chicago I would say as really being their city that really allows them to move their drugs north, south, east and west," said Vince Balboa, DEA Strike Force.

Last week when authorities raided El Chapo's home in central Mexico, he managed to get away through a series of tunnels tied to the public sewer system. But those arrested and their cell phones allowed U.S. drug enforcement officers and Mexican police to track the 56-year-old kingpin to the seaside hotel where he was arrested.

El Chapo doesn't know which direction his cartel will go now that he is in the hands of Mexican police-- some of whom cover their faces for fear of being identified and retaliation against family members.

He has had the resources and the gravitas to kill even his own family members, all to protect an organization responsible for 25 percent of the drugs coming into the U.S., and a staggering 80 percent of those in Chicago.

On Monday afternoon, he is in custody after 13 years on the run. One of those who has spent years hunting El Chapo is Chicago's Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent-in-Charge Jack Riley.

"Those are strikes at the heart of an organization. Those are removing the monster's head. Will it stop that way? No. But it causes tremendous chaos within the organization, tremendous chaos in Mexico, in the transportation apparatus that's responsible for getting it to Chicago," said Riley.

Riley on Saturday was first to lay claim on El Chapo for prosecution. The Mexican drug lord is under indictment here, in a sweeping drug conspiracy case, but is also charged in six other U.S. jurisdictions.

Will El Chapo stand trial in Chicago?

Will Chicago's public enemy No. 1 stand trial in Chicago? The ABC7 I-Team has been looking into that question and what happens next to the world's wealthiest drug lord known as El Chapo.

Federal drug agents don't believe Joaquin Guzman has actually ever been in Chicago, but they say he and his Sinaloa Cartel by remote control are responsible for 80 percent of the illicit drugs that are sold here, used here, and kill here.

That's why the man known as Shorty, sometimes "The Fireplug", El Chapo was indicted by a federal grand jury in Chicago. The charges were handed up five years ago, as some of El Chapo's lieutenants are already here awaiting trial.

"This is a real corridor, especially for Chapo Guzman," said Riley.

When Chicago's top federal drug enforcement agent gave the I-Team a cartel briefing last month, Joaquin Guzman was still a fugitive. After being arrested over the weekend in Mazatlan, his mugshot and earlier photos show that he may have had a hair transplant and plastic surgery to change his appearance.

Now that he is in custody, authorities in seven U.S. jurisdictions, including Brooklyn, New York and Chicago would like to reel in El Chapo-- especially Chicago, where he was made public enemy No. 1 by the crime commission.

Former federal prosecutor and ABC7 Legal Analyst Gil Soffer says Mexico isn't likely to give up the drug lord without a fight.

"This is a real feather in their cap having nabbed this guy, and they're going to want to show their country and the world that they're capable of running him through the length of their prosecutive process and keeping him in prison forever," said Soffer.

This is the El Chapo Chicago indictment from 2009 that describes transportation the Sinaloa Cartel has to move drugs including a Boeing 747 cargo aircraft, private aircraft, submarines, semi-submersible vessels, container ships, go-fast boats, fishing vessels, buses, rail cars, and tractor trailers.

Top El Chapo Lt. Vicente Zambada Niebla was already arrested and extradited from Mexico.

"Part of the process in eliminating these organizations is being able to indict and extradite the key command and control who hide in Mexico," said Riley.

"It's one thing to consider letting others come to the United States for extradition but when you're talking about public enemy number one, that's what Chicago calls him, you can be certain that's what Mexico calls him, then you're talking about a different political calculation entirely. That's why I wouldn't lay bets on seeing him come to our country any time soon," said Soffer.

Here is what it would take for El Chapo to actually end up in Chicago where he is under indictment: there would be an extradition request from the U.S., and the Mexican government would have to agree to it. That is likely to be the biggest hurdle. Then Attorney General Eric Holder would have to select Chicago as the venue where he should be tried, likely the jurisdiction with the best case. Considering that Chicago's prosecution is already underway with other defendant's in custody, that wouldn't be a long shot.


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