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Wiretaps, aides led to drug lord arrest

CULIACAN, MEXICO (AP) - As Mexican troops forced their way into Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's main hideout in Culiacan, the country's most powerful drug lord sneaked out of the house through an escape tunnel beneath the bathtub.

Mexican marines working with U.S. authorities chased him but lost the man known as "Shorty" in a maze of tunnels under the city, a U.S. government official and a senior law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Sunday.

It would be a short-lived escape for Guzman, who was captured early Saturday hiding out in a condominium in Mazatlan, a beach resort town on Mexico's Pacific Coast.

He had a military-style assault rifle with him but didn't fire a shot, the officials said. His beauty queen wife, Emma Coronel, was with him when the manhunt for one of the world's most wanted drug traffickers ended.

How Police Caught The World's Most Wanted Drug Trafficker

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss specific details of how U.S. authorities tracked down Guzman.

For 13 years Guzman watched from western Mexico's rugged mountains as authorities captured or killed the leaders of every group challenging his Sinaloa cartel's spot at the top of global drug trafficking.

Unscathed and his legend growing, the stocky son of a peasant farmer grabbed a slot on the Forbes' billionaires' list and a folkloric status as the capo who grew too powerful to catch. Then, late last year, authorities started closing in on the inner circle of the world's most-wanted drug lord. Bit by bit, they got closer to the crime boss.

Then on Feb. 16, investigators from Mexico along with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement caught the break they badly needed when they tracked a cellphone to one of the Culiacan stash houses Guzman used to elude capture.

The phone was connected to his communications chief, Carlos Manuel Ramirez, whose nickname is Condor. By the next day Mexican authorities arrested one of Guzman's top couriers, who promptly provided details of the stash houses 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 said three tons of drugs, suspected to be cocaine and methamphetamine, were found at one of the stash houses.

An AP reporter who walked through one of the tunnels had to dismount into a canal and stoop to enter the drain pipe, which was filled with water and mud and smelled of sewage. About 700 meters (yards) in, a trap door was open, revealing a newly constructed tunnel. Large and lined with wood panels like a cabin, the passage had lighting and air conditioning. At the end of the tunnel was a blue ladder attached to the wall that led to one of the houses Mexican authorities say Guzman used as a hideout.

A day after troops narrowly missed Guzman in Culiacan, top aide Manuel Lopez Ozorio was arrested. The officials said he told investigators that he picked up Guzman, Ramirez and a woman from a drainage pipe and helped them flee to Mazatlan.

A wiretap being monitored by ICE agents in southern Arizona provided the final clue, helping track Guzman to the beachfront condo, the officials said.

The ICE wiretap proved the most crucial lead late last week as other wiretaps became useless as Guzman and his associates reacted to coming so close to being caught.

"It just all came together and we got the right people to flip and we were up on good wire," the government official said. "The ICE wire was the last one standing. That wire in Nogales. That got him (Guzman) inside that hotel."

Alonzo Pena, a former senior official at ICE, said wiretaps in Arizona led authorities to the Culiacan house of Guzman's ex-wife, Griselda Lopez, and to the Mazatlan hotel where Guzman was arrested.

The ICE investigation started about a year ago with a tip from the agency's Atlanta office that someone was crossing the border with about $100,000 at a time, said Pena, who was briefed on the investigation. That person led investigators to another cartel operative, believed to be an aircraft broker, and that allowed them to locate Guzman's communications equipment.

The senior law enforcement official said the Mexican marines deserve credit for taking Guzman alive and without either side firing a shot.

"We never anticipated, ever, that he would be taken alive," the official said.

It is not yet clear what will happen next to Guzman, except that he will be the focus of a lengthy and complicated legal process to decide whether Mexico or the U.S. gets to try him first.

In Mexico, he is likely to face a host of charges related to his role as head of the Sinaloa cartel, which is believed to sell cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine in some 54 countries.

Grand juries in at least seven U.S. federal district courts, including Chicago, San Diego, New York and Texas, have already issued indictments for Guzman on a variety of charges, ranging from smuggling cocaine and heroin to participating in an ongoing criminal enterprise involving murder and racketeering.

Federal officials in Chicago were among the first to say they wanted to try Guzman. On Sunday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Tiscione in Brooklyn became the second. In an email Sunday, Tiscione said his office would also be seeking extradition but it would be up to Washington to make the final call.

A Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because it's a matter of sensitive diplomatic discussions, said decisions regarding extradition have not been made.

When Guzman 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 been on the run since escaping from prison in 2001 in a laundry truck. During those 13 years, 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.

Under his leadership, the Sinaloa Cartel grew deadlier and more powerful, taking over much of the lucrative trafficking routes along the U.S. border.

His undoing started late last year as authorities on both sides of the border arrested people close to Guzman and one of his two top associates, Ismael "Mayo" Zambada.

This month federal forces began sweeping through Culiacan, capital of the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa. They closed streets, raided houses, seized automatic weapons, drugs and money, and arrested a series of men that Mexican officials carefully described to reporters as top officials for Zambada.

On Feb. 13, a man known as "19," whom officials called the new chief of assassin for Zambada, was arrested with two other men on the highway to Mazatlan.

Four days later, a man described as a member of the Sinaloa cartel's upper ranks was seized along with 4,000 hollowed-out cucumbers and bananas stuffed with cocaine. In the middle of last week, a 43-year-old known by the nickname "20" and described as Zambada's chief of security, was arrested transporting more cocaine-stuffed produce.

By the middle of the week at least 10 Sinaloa henchmen had been seized.

The final strike came when marines closed the beachside road in front of the Miramar condominiums, a 10-story, pearl-colored building with white balconies overlooking the Pacific and a small pool in front. Smashing down the door of an austerely decorated fourth-floor condo, they seized Guzman a few minutes after the sun rose.


Associated Press writer Alicia A. Caldwell reported this story from Washington and Adriana Gomez Licon reported in Culiacan. AP writers Katherine Corcoran in Mexico City and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
Patricio February 24 2014 at 10:42 AM

Interesting how all his comrades turned rat on him. True, there is no honor amongst thieves.

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WelcomeScreenNW February 24 2014 at 10:26 AM

Despite the emphasis over and over again in this article on the wiretaps, particularly the wiretap headquarter in Arizona, the big story is not the wiretaps but rather that the Mexican authorities were able to get drug figures, from the lowest to the highest, to talk and provide key, detailed information on Guzman, including hideouts, contacts, and means of protection. Somehow, the Mexican authorities were able to get these people to talk notwithstanding the fear that they would be killed by other drug lords, in or out of prison, along with their families being killed in retaliation.

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apc4deuce February 24 2014 at 10:23 AM

KILL this Bastard. He a killer

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elenoirmaria February 24 2014 at 10:20 AM

This drug lords thinks they have it made. They abuse, violate and corrupt so many innocent people for their greedy for money that they do not care for these peoples life of families, as long as they get what they want. Causing so much pain and damages every where. They cause all these to make themselves powerful and rich and what good does to them if they have to live like rats, hiding underground, watching their backs all the time, fearing who is the one who is going to kill any time.
It is so sad, that these people have no fear of the power of our Lord, Jehova, God. Here is the prove of "HIS" power, sooner of later they will fall. The bible clearly says, "who lives by the sword will die by the sword"

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1 reply
kwebandb elenoirmaria February 24 2014 at 10:27 AM

Are you descibing drug dealers or US politicians?

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dhartson February 24 2014 at 10:20 AM

put to DEATH !!!! What else would be right? and DO IT NOW !!! not in 20 years !

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Disculpame February 24 2014 at 10:20 AM

Chapo is a fall guy! Somebody in "someones good graces" will succeed him and I believe there is more to this drug problem then what is being reported. Surely, "every once and awhile" the Mexican military and U. S DEA make a big arrest or drug bust in the tune of millions and make us think through the media that they are really making inroads into seizing these drugs that cause permanent stupor of the mind. I ask how and why are the vast majority of these drugs getting through, despite all the billions spent on enforcement and technologically advanced equipment used to intercept it? Is someone telling me that Chapo and his like, have some some kind of superior technology that can outwit both the Mexican military and the DEA??? Personally, I think it takes two or more to tango. He who knocks on the door and he who willingly opens the door with a big abrazo (hug)....

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1 reply
c.reardon Disculpame February 24 2014 at 10:50 AM

To continue on your train of thought. One of the other reports from the arrest of the Zambada and his son, reported that the DEA and the Mexican Government allowed El Chapo to become the most powerful drug lord in the world. They looked the other way in exchange for information. It is a cycle. One hand feeds the other. Top officials make arrests sometimes when they are under fire or exposed or even embarrassed from information leaking out. It is a cat and mouse game that they all play. Someone else will be allowed to take power after El Chapo. The government always needs funding, and there will always be a need for supply and demand here in the US and around the world. Unfortunately Money talks and drugs pay off for all players involved.

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llbarbi February 24 2014 at 10:18 AM

Job well done.

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jimgoldenvp February 24 2014 at 10:18 AM

Good Job Men!!!! Now work this magic in the US !!!!!! and any other tunnels you find, where them

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janka51 February 24 2014 at 4:20 PM

why go to all this trouble , just get rid of the users

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wheezy204 February 24 2014 at 10:13 AM

First of all the media should be ashamed to post anything of this quality how they escaped, when ,what was used. governments, polictical , enforcement military just cannot keep quiet. Why they have to let the world know how things were completed. Stuipid.. We need Military who can go in and out accomplish what needs to be done and none the wiser. We did have a group along time ago, But now that group is old and gone .

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2 replies
JERI wheezy204 February 24 2014 at 10:19 AM

It was the Mexican Military. They are the one who were ones who they are talking about. And I have to say, KUDOS to the Mexican Military for finally doing something! Hell, I didn't even know there was a Mexican Marines. And a big hand to the ICE agents who gave them a hand with the wire devices to track them down and help.

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suzze4630 wheezy204 February 24 2014 at 10:36 AM

Mexico will get him, their prisons are not country clubs: even "Bubba" doesn't want to live there. It's just too bad our own military is prohibited--by a constitutional amendment, no less--to aid our own country instead of helping so many others. Once their name is known, their "ass is grass," and it's only a matter of time.

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