People march in support of jailed drug boss Joaquin Guzman Loera, "El Chapo" in the city of Culiacan, Mexico, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014. Hundreds of people marched on the streets of Culiacan, the drug lord's bastion, demanding that Guzman be freed, before they briefly clashed with police who fired tear gas at them. (AP Photo/El Debate de Culiacan-Jonathan Telles)
Updated: April 3, 2014 6:46AM
Will Chicago have first crack at Sinaloa drug cartel leader Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman?
That’s the question federal authorities here are asking after the kingpin was captured last weekend in Mexico.
Guzman, whose nickname means “shorty” (he’s reportedly 5-foot-6), is the top defendant in perhaps the most important narcotics case ever brought in federal court in Chicago.
He was nabbed in the Mexican coastal city of Mazatlan after authorities arrested one of his underlings and reportedly were able to use his phone to track Guzman’s movements.
Twin brothers from Chicago — drug suppliers who bought as many as 2 tons of cocaine a month from the Sinaloa cartel — have been cooperating with the feds against Guzman. Many of the defendants in the 2009 Chicago indictment have been hunted down and are in jail awaiting trial.
But until a week ago, Guzman was a fugitive, frustrating U.S. authorities who put a $5 million reward on his head.
U.S. and Mexican authorities believe they came close to snaring Guzman several times. They suspect corrupt cops in Mexico tipped him to the stings. He was able to escape from his rural hideouts through tunnels, some of them connected to sewer systems.
His luck ran out Feb. 22.
Jack Riley, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Chicago, said last weekend that he’d like prosecutors in Chicago to try Guzman first.
But there also are pending federal drug cases against Guzman elsewhere, including Manhattan, Brooklyn and Miami. Mexico, which has its own narcotics case against Guzman, is weighing whether to extradite him to the United States. It’s unclear whether Guzman will have to go to trial first in Mexico.
Guzman, who escaped prison in 2001 in Mexico after reportedly paying off officials there, is being held in a maximum-security prison, El Altiplano de Juarez, where the billionaire drug boss is secure, authorities there insist.
Officials in Chicago say they believe the cartel’s drugs will continue to flow despite Guzman’s arrest. Lieutenants with similar duties as Enrique Avalos-Barriga’s already were running his day-to-day operations, they said. Avalos, who was arrested in 1995, was the cartel’s top man in the U.S. and lived two years in Chicago.
What’s unclear is whether other drug cartels like the Zetas will ramp up efforts to take over the Sinaloa cartel’s business. That could affect Chicago’s streets if drug suppliers are unsure whether to keep their alliances with the Sinaloa cartel.
The Sinaloa cartel could lash out violently if Chicago suppliers go somewhere else for their drugs, sources said.