Last week a Mexican federal court granted an American extradition request sending Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to the US. The face, but reportedly not the brain, behind the Sinaloa Cartel was transferred earlier this month by Mexican authorities from a maximum-security facility in central Mexico to a prison in Juarez- across the river from El Paso Texas, sparking chatter that the notorious drug dealer will finally face charges in America.
“It’s going to be a huge security operation, what we’ve heard from both sides of the border (is that) officials have been working on getting him extradited for months and less than an hour ago we got this official confirmation from Mexican federal court that the judge approved the request from the Department of Justice to have him extradited,” Boris Sanchez told CNN. “He is facing a slew of charges from murder to kidnapping and torture and of course importing more than a quarter million pounds of cocaine into the United States.”
With the graffiti on the wall, El Chapo’s legal team is trying to negotiate a better deal (no death penalty) from US authorities before the Sinaloa cartel leadership feeds Guzman to the fishes. Now that the most famous cartel leader since Columbia’s Pablo Escobar is locked up, who will run the largest multi-billion dollar-per-year cartel operation in the world?
That privilege apparently goes to Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, whom cartel experts contend really runs the powerful Sinaloa cartel plus Zambada has been laundering the drug gang’s money operations for years.
Mexican officials told reporters that El Chapo was just the face of the Sinaloa cartel, not the brains and his meeting with high-profile US actor Sean Penn and Mexican actress Kate Castillo was the last straw for the real multi-billion-dollar cartel leaders.
But thinking a step ahead of the famous Mexican jail breaker and playboy, Zambada, whose son is currently serving time in Chicago for a 2013 drug trafficking beef, wants his son home. Plus, the Obama administration could spin El Chapo’s American jail vacation into a huge victory for the US “war against drugs.”
To date, US federal agents have already gleaned tons of cartel operational procedures from Zambada’s son, Vicente. He has been one of the highest ranking Sinaloa drug traffickers ever arrested, and the US Attorney’s Office claims they got a treasure trove of valuable Intel that supposedly will give US law enforcement the upper hand in the worldwide drug war. It’s fair to say Vicente’s ratting could prove to be the final nail in El Chapo’s coffin.
During Vicente Zambada’s controversial arrest, the 30 something year-old told US officials that he was a DEA informant, something US federal agencies undertake all the time. But the US attorney insisted Zambada made no arrangement and was only snitching on rival cartels to cement the Sinaloa cartel’s powerful dominance.
So who is Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada?
“He is the patriarch.” Cartel experts acknowledge there are two secrets to his success. First the 68-year-old cartel financier keeps a low profile and spends a lot of dinero countering potential enemies like corrupt politicians and Mexican Federales. Even though his son, Vicente, demonstrated to US officials that his father was central to money laundering of drug proceeds from the United States into Mexico, as well as highlighting lucrative cocaine and heroin shipping routes.
Unlike other prominent drug lords, who have been jailed or killed, the senior Zambada has never been arrested on drug charges and is even reputed to be hawking heroin, marijuana, meth and cocaine inside Mexico.
Nearly a decade ago, the US Treasury declared a number of business networks allegedly owned by his former wife and children were nothing more than money-laundering fronts. However, most of those businesses remain open, free from US or Mexican seizure.
Zambada runs the cartel in Sinaloa state in Culiacan, Mexico. The small villages and the jungle landscape are the heart of Mexican drug cartels and provide the perfect cover to escape police attention. The camera-shy drug magnate is rarely seen, and multiple media efforts to interview Zambada have run empty as villagers protect his presence at all costs.
Zambada’s Sinaloa cartel inner circle is a family affair with his sons occupying top trafficking positions and his daughters owning multiple companies. In a rare interview with Mexican news magazine Proceso in 2010, Zambada said, “he had come close to arrest on four occasions, crawling through ditches to flee soldiers.”
Meanwhile, officials said the United States has been legally preparing for Guzman’s extradition for months and has been working out security measures to safely place the notorious drug kingpin in an American prison.
So far, US authorities have not disclosed where “El Chapo” will be charged first, but it appears that he will likely be transferred to Brooklyn to face a litany of charges including murder, money laundering, kidnapping, torture, as well as drug trafficking.
Nevertheless, back in Mexico, Zambada wants his son home and he may be betting that President Obama’s desire to add El Chapo to his Osama bin-Laden legacy list could mean a quid pro quo is in the offing.