One of world’s top drug lords had eluded authorities since 2001.
CULIACAN, Mexico – After fruitlessly pursuing one of the world’s top drug lords for years, authorities finally drew close to Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman using a cellphone found at a house where drugs were stored.
The phone belonging to a Guzman aide was recovered with clues from a U.S. wiretap and provided a key break in the long chase to find Guzman, officials said on Sunday.
Another big leap forward came after police analyzed information from a different wiretap that pointed them to a beachfront condo where the legendary leader of the Sinaloa cartel was hiding, according to a U.S. government official and a senior federal law enforcement official.
When he was at last arrested with his beauty queen wife, Guzman had a military-style assault rifle in the room, but he didn’t go for it.
A day after the arrest, it was not yet clear what would happen next to Guzman, except that he would be the focus of a lengthy and complicated legal process to decide which country gets to try him first.
The cellphone was found Feb. 16 at a house Guzman had been using in Culiacan. By early the next day, the Mexican military had captured one of Guzman’s top couriers, who promptly provided details of the stash houses that Guzman and his associates had been using, the officials said.
At each house, the Mexican military found the same thing: steel reinforced doors and an escape hatch below the bathtubs. Each hatch led to a series of interconnected tunnels in the city’s drainage system.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said troops who raided Guzman’s main house in Culiacan chased him through the drainage pipes before losing him in the maze under the city.
A day later, on Feb. 18, Guzman aide Manuel Lopez Ozorio was arrested and told investigators that he had picked up Guzman, cartel communications chief Carlos Manuel Ramirez and a woman from a drainage pipe and helped them flee to Mazatlan.
On the run since 2001
When he was finally in handcuffs, the man who eluded Mexican authorities for more than a decade looked pudgy, bowed and middle-aged in a white button-down shirt and beltless black jeans.
Now 56, he had successfully eluded authorities since escaping from prison in 2001 in a laundry truck.
He is likely to face a host of charges in Mexico related to his role as the head of the cartel, which is believed to sell cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine in some 54 countries.
He also faces extensive allegations in the United States, where grand juries in at least seven federal courts, including Chicago, San Diego, New York and Texas, have indicted him.
Federal officials in Chicago were among the first to say they wanted to try Guzman, followed by prosecutors in New York City.
In an e-mail Sunday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Tiscione in Brooklyn said it would be up to Washington to make the final call.
A Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no decisions regarding extradition have been made.
During his 13 years on the run, Guzman was rumored to live everywhere from Argentina to Mexico’s “Golden Triangle,” a mountainous, marijuana-growing region straddling the northern states of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua.