$15M reward for Ismael Zambada Garcia suggests Chicago has new Public Enemy No. 1

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Ross Weidner WLS logo
Thursday, September 30, 2021
Huge reward suggests Chicago has new Public Enemy No. 1
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El Mayo has been on the lam for decades. He is 73 and said to be in ill health, and may no longer be on the run.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- When the U.S. State Department tripled the reward for Ismael Zambada Garcia from $5 million to $15 million, the man they call "El Mayo" effectively became Chicago's new Public Enemy No. 1 and the city's most wanted fugitive, just by the price tag on his head.

El Mayo is the leader of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, taking over five years ago for the notorious drug lord known as El Chapo.

SEE ALSO | Sentencing mysteriously delayed for 'El Chapo' Guzman's wife

El Mayo has been on the lam for decades. He is 73 and said to be in ill health, and may no longer be on the run.

For decades, he was the right hand man to Joaquin El Chapo Guzman.

When Chapo was arrested in a 2016 firefight, Mayo was the man who assumed leadership. At the time, U.S. officials were offering only a $5 million reward for El Chapo and to this day, will pay only $10 million for rival New Generation cartel boss El Mencho. Those two cartels provide nearly all of the illicit street drugs sold in Chicago, according to law enforcement officials.

SEE ALSO | 50 El Mencho gangsters arrested by Chicago DEA in Project Python, the CJNG cartel takedown

"Mexican cartels are producing huge amounts of fentanyl clandestinely, illegally, in industrial sized labs in Mexico," said Robert Bell, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA in Chicago.

What was a $5 million reward for EL Mayo is now $15 million, making him the highest priced fugitive in Chicago, where he is facing a multi-count federal drug indictment from 2009 with El Chapo.

"If they're able to get El Chapo, it stands to reason that they could get El Mayo," said Ed Farrell, a former deputy U.S. Marshal in Chicago. "The difference is, El Chapo was a lot younger, and a lot more out there and open. El Mayo has been successful because he's always really sat in the background of the cartel, as opposed to some of the other figures who have either been killed or arrested."

Farrell said Mexican law enforcement was more helpful than a few years ago.

"Taking this individual down will be symbolic in nature, and it would also take away the mentor for El Chapo's sons, who are the heir apparent for the organization," said Ed Farrell, Silver Star Protection Group.

El Mayo is thought to be hiding in Mexico, and American officials hope the sizable reward might be an adequate incentive for someone there, or here, to turn him in.

But while $15 million is the biggest reward for a Chicago most-wanted, it's not the nation's largest. The bounty on al-Qaeda terror boss Ayman al-Zawahiri is $25 million.