El Chapo's son, Ovidio Guzmán López, pleads not guilty to drug, money laundering charges in Chicago

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Tom Jones WLS logo
Monday, September 18, 2023
El Chapo's son pleads not guilty to charges in Chicago federal court
El Chapo's son, Ovidio Guzmán López, pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking and money laundering charges. He's being held at MCC Chicago.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Ovidio Guzmán López, the 33-year-old son of former Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán, pleaded not guilty in a Chicago courtroom Monday to money laundering, drug trafficking and other charges in his first court appearance since his extradition to the U.S. from Mexico three days prior.

Appearing meek and soft spoken, Guzmán López, nicknamed "the Mouse," spoke through an English translator for most of the proceeding while surrounded by eight uniformed U.S. Marshals in U.S. District Judge Sharon Coleman's courtroom.

Guzmán López's court demeanor stood in stark contrast to what prosecutors say he and his family are responsible for.

According to court filings, Guzmán López and his brothers, collectively known as "the Chapitos," are accused of assuming their father's former role as leaders of the Sinaloa cartel in 2019, shortly after El Chapo was sentenced to life in prison in the U.S.

After taking control of the cartel, prosecutors say the Chapitos were responsible for running a global drug trafficking network, including fueling the deadly fentanyl crisis nationwide.

Guzmán López and his brothers are alleged to have smuggled vast quantities of drugs into the U.S. using aircraft, submarines, and container ships, as well as managing networks of couriers, tunnels and stash houses throughout Mexico and the United States.

The ABC7 Chicago I-Team reported that the cartel has been responsible for 80% of street drugs flooding metro Chicago streets in the past three decades, according to law enforcement officials.

Prosecutors also allege that Guzmán López and his brothers have carried out shocking acts of violence to protect their fentanyl trafficking operations, including feeding rival drug traffickers to their pet tigers, dead or alive, as well as other means of torture including electrocution and waterboarding.

Heightened security was present at the Dirksen federal courthouse on Monday in anticipation of Guzmán López's arraignment, given what took place when he was taken into custody by Mexican security forces earlier this year.

When he was arrested this past January, violence broke out in Culiacan, the capital of the Sinaloa state. Gunfire erupted, killing 30 people including 10 military personnel, with news reports indicating Mexico's army used Black Hawk helicopter gunships against the cartel's truck-mounted .50-caliber machine guns. Many Mexican military members and civilians were caught in the crossfire.

No violence occurred this past Friday when American officials extradited Guzmán López from Mexico to Chicago.

At his arraignment and through a translator, Guzmán López told the judge he suffers from "depression, and anxiety" as well as stomach pain from a surgery he had the previous year and takes medication daily for.

Guzmán López's attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, told the I-Team after the hearing that his client is doing "okay" given the current circumstances.

"This would impact anybody's mental state as a human being, he is a sensitive guy," Lichtman said. "He's quiet and reflective, so this has not been an easy time for him."

"He's facing the rest of his life in prison, so if that doesn't give somebody anxiety and depression," Lichtman continued.

Lichtman also represented Guzmán López's father El Chapo.

When asked if Guzmán López is considering cooperating with the government, and helping agents track down his brothers at large, Lichtman scoffed.

"Is Ovidio going to help the government track down his brothers? Does anyone else have an intelligent question?" Lichtman said sarcastically. "No, he's not planning on cooperating against his brothers."

Guzmán López's appearance in Chicago was welcomed by many in local law enforcement circles who are responsible for building the case against his father and the Sinaloa Cartel.

Jack Riley, a former Special Agent in Charge for Chicago's DEA field office, ran the early stages of the federal case against El Chapo, and said Monday's arraignment was "a real vindication."

"This is an important move up because this kid [Guzmán López] is responsible for shifting the Sinaloa into our current problem: Fentanyl," Riley told the I-Team. "He's one of four kids that Chapo has. We got one down, and we're gonna go after the other three... This will send a strong message to the remaining family members that nobody is untouchable."

When El Chapo was extradited to the U.S. in 2017, he was brought to Brooklyn, New York, where he was tried and convicted, even though many in Chicago law enforcement were disenchanted with the decision to not try him in Chicago.

When Guzmán López stood before a Chicago judge on Monday, some in law enforcement said they were pleased that the case finally landed here.

"I fought very hard to have the original Chapo trial prosecuted here in Chicago, as did the U.S. Attorney's office," Riley said. "But politically, we were overruled. And I think this shows the strength of our cases, [and] the way that we work."

Guzmán López's attorney told the I-Team he is in more humane conditions in U.S. custody than his father, El Chapo.

If Guzmán López is convicted, he faces ten years to life in prison.

In an odd twist, experts say if convicted, he would likely be confined in the Colorado SuperMax prison, where his father is a lifetime resident.