Many people are familiar with Pablo Escobar, the former leader of the Medellin Cartel and one of the most powerful South American drug lords in modern history. What most people don’t know, is that Escobar’s death in 1993 created a power vacuum in the drug trafficking scene that was filled by an even more ingenious criminal enterprise.
The unbelievably powerful Sinaloa Cartel has run rampant in Mexico for the past several decades, creating a worldwide net of drug traffic that seemingly could not be stopped. That is, until one industrious D.E.A agent began to connect the dots…
The Sinaloa cartel has been able to capitalize on Pablo Escobar’s absence since the drug lord’s death in 1993 and has turned the sale and distribution of not only Colombian cocaine but also marijuana and methamphetamines, into a fortune. What’s more, the cartel is doing it unabashedly and with little regard for consequence.
The Sinaloa Cartel bribes mayors and prosecutors, governors, state police and federal police. They’ve also been known to pay off army and navy personnel from various nations to ensure that their drugs get through the cracks in the system. When it’s all tallied up, bribery may be the single largest line item on the Cartel’s balance sheet. At the head of it is perhaps the most feared criminal of the modern age…
There’s also Sinaloa’s army of “Falcons”: civilian lookouts who receive an extra $100 a month just to keep their eyes peeled and inform the cartel of any increase in border inspections or police activity. One of the D.E.A agents assigned to the Sinaloa case, Michael Waldrop once noted that, “There are cities in Mexico where virtually every cabdriver is on the payroll…”
The first thing that sparked the involvement of the D.E.A., unsurprisingly, was the involvement of American border patrol officials who were also on the take. When the D.E.A. began their initial investigation in 2004, they had no idea how far the Cartel’s reach had spread. Since that time, there have been 138 convictions or indictments in corruption involving members of the United States Customs and Border Patrol…
The amount of money that the Mexican cartel has derived from U.S. sales is staggering. The Cartel has made nearly $6.6 billion from U.S. drug sales in the past three decades. That is in comparison to the annual earnings of some American companies like Netflix or Facebook, which only gross about $3 million.
More importantly, the drug business in Mexico has claimed more than 50,000 lives since 2006 and that’s not even counting the number of people who died as a result of drug dependence or drug overdoses. This violence has also spilled over from the cartel’s home country into the U.S., which of course made it even more important that the D.E.A. put a stop to the cartel’s American incursion as soon as possible…
Known as El Chapo for his short, stocky frame,Joaquín Guzmán is a sort of mythical figure in Mexico. The 55-year-old is as ruthless as he is ingenious, has outlived enemies and accomplices alike, has escaped capture more three times, and has defied the international community by building a drug empire that rivaled any that has come before.
One informant has described what he witnessed as far as El Chapo’s attitude regarding his supposedly clandestine drug empire. “Chapo always talks about the drug business, wherever he is…he’s driven, obsessive, and has a taste for micromanagement.” Other witnesses and informants have agreed that El Chapo is shameless when it comes to his illegal business: mainly because he has no fear of law enforcement…
Federales and Fear
Frankly, El Chapo has reason to be so smug. For decades, the cartel has created a worldwide network of drug runners, dealers, spies, dirty cops, and even bribed government officials. As with most criminal enterprises, treachery still abounds within the organization, but El Chapo has done a great deal to ensure obedience and loyalty in his various “employees”
When El Chapo was arrested for drug trafficking in the 1990s, he was sentenced to 20 years in a fortified Mexican prison. He spent only five years there, living it up with meals he ordered off a menu, conducting business with a private cell phone, and organizing conjugal visits from prostitutes. How, you may ask? Most of the prison was on his payroll…
When the D.E.A. first began intercepting large shipments of cocaine, they didn’t know it was linked to El Chapo. Michael Wardrop, a D.E.A. officer who led two of the agency’s most ambitious domestic drug raids, noticed that the confiscated kilo bricks of coke had all been heat-sealed in a distinctive Mylar foil: the calling card of El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel. It was only a few at first, but the bricks began appearing with increasing frequency.
Thousands of Arrests
Wardrop’s investigations netted more than a thousand arrests initially and yet, the deeper they delved into the cartel’s American presence, the more unnerving it became. Part of this was because many of the local U.S. drug dealers didn’t know who they were getting product from. That was going to make it difficult…
All Through the U.S.
You see, Sinaloa ferries drugs along highways to regional distribution hubs across the U.S. It was along these routes that the agent Wardrop caught up with Pedro and Margarito Flores of Chicago. Their brother and father had moved drugs for Sinaloa and had brought in the twins when they reached their 20’s.
But in 2008, when the Flores twins were indicted for their illicit activities, the D.E.A. reached out to them and were able to convince them to cooperate with law enforcement. A year later, several more Mexican drug runners turned informant and were extradited to Chicago. These high-ranking members of the cartel were soon ready to testify against their former boss in U.S. court. However, the D.E.A. still had one tiny problem…
El Chapo wasn’t an idiot. In the world of international drug smuggling, one needs to get used to betrayal and plan for it accordingly. In the past, El Chapo has frequently authorized employees to provide information to American law enforcement. While they often led to minor drug raids, the lion’s share of the business remained completely undetected. Were Wardrop’s new informants just more of El Chapo’s red herrings?
To make matters worse, at least for the D.E.A. and Sinaloa’s competitors, the informants would often provide information about the processes and drops of rival cartels. Though this led to many arrests for the D.E.A., it also cleared the way for El Chapo’s business to flourish. Anytime they got close to the drug lord, he’d go into hiding in his mountain hideout, and lay low while the U.S. law enforcement kept itself busy…
Individuals like the Flores brothers, who did have legitimate information, were often in more danger by becoming informants than they would have been otherwise. Several career criminals in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago, where the twins were being held, were contacted by cartel representatives about having the Flores twins assassinated.
The Flores trial, their testimony, and the numerous reports of El Chapo’s wrongdoings over the years are being built into a massive criminal case against the drug lord. Though he has escaped capture several times on both sides of the border, Mexican officials, it seems, are finally catching up to him. It seemed like it was only a matter of time before Wardrop and his allies finally brought him in. Nevertheless, he has escaped before…
El Chapo has been arrested various times and imprisoned just as many, only to escape on numerous occasions. Since his third and latest capture, a renewed process of extradition to the United States was formally launched by Mexico. On January 19, 2017, El Chapo was extradited to the U.S. to face charges related to his running the Sinaloa cartel.
Today, El Chapo sits comfortably in a New York prison, awaiting his day in court. Meanwhile, the South American drug trade readies for a new drug lord to take the throne. The power vacuum left by El Chapo’s departure will no doubt attract the attention of many rival cartels, who will undoubtedly unseat or take over the Sinaloa. That is, at least until El Chapo escapes again…