Chapo Guzman: The Man, the Myth in Custody Thanks to U.S. Wiretaps

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Until his Saturday capture, Joaquin Guzmán Loera headed the most powerful drug cartel in the world. Under his leadership, the Sinaloa cartel — named for its home state in northwest Mexico — was responsible for an estimated 25 percent of all illegal drugs that enter the United States from Mexico, and its tentacles spread through 23 countries, reaching as far as Australia. According to experts from the Drug Enforcement Agency, a conservative estimate of the drug cartel’s annual revenues is more than $3 billion.

In February 2013, the city of Chicago’s crime commission even branded Guzmán the first “Public Enemy No. 1” since Al Capone. He evaded authorities for 13 years before being found by Mexican Navy commandos at an unassuming beach hotel-condominium in the Mexican Pacific coast resort town of Mazatlán. That long run from the law only hints at the extent of his power and the size of his myth. At the time of his arrest, Guzmán supplied more illegal drugs to the United States than anyone else in the world, and Forbes ranked him No. 67 on its 2013 list of the world’s most powerful people.

Every year Guzmán avoided capture, his myth grew. Known by the sobriquet “El Chapo,” which translates as “Shorty,” superficially, 5-foot-6-inch Guzmán may not seem to embody the type of man who could keep several steps ahead authorities on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. But his ability to elude capture through a system of bribes, safe houses, and a vast network of support was almost mythical in nature. In 1993, he was arrested in the Mexican state of Chiapas on charges related to murder and drug trafficking, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

But in 2001, he escaped in a laundry cart from a maximum security prison in Guadalajara, Jalisco, allegedly with the help of prison guards and maintenance workers. As many as 78 people have been implicated in that escape. While still in prison, Guzmán was indicted in San Diego on charges of money laundering and importing more than eight tons of cocaine into California, as well as on similar charges in Arizona. The U.S. Department of State offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

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