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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.

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jmg62 February 25 2014 at 4:38 AM

Oh, please, Guzman isn't going to live long enough to travel around Mexico and America to be "prosecuted". Only if they wrap it all up in a nice bow tied package - not just one for Mexico and one for American places - but one between them both will Guzman even be in a cell long enough to be parsed around all these places to be paraded around like a trophy. They probably gave him all the time in the world to kill himself - not only for him to do their dirty work - but to save the money it would take to secure him hopscotching all over a continent. Tossed him a loaded Glock 9 mm 10 load clip no safety and all. Too many informants to kill off - so HE'S the one who has to go. It's the tunnels (filled in or not the idiots will carve out ones next to them with minor adjustments) and the way farther down underlings who will pay as another Cartel sets up shop. By late Spring - Summertime the drugs will again be flowing freely and Guzman will be dead. Be smart- do as the Nazi's did - put in sound amplifiers before caving them in - don't even need to fill in all of them then. Building new warehouse's, condo's, house's within 5 miles of the border w/w/o permits is a good idea too. As much as wanting to seem legitimate - they can be lazy. Guzman did. Keeping THAT much product in one place. Deliveries from cross country/sea borne routes? Or just good production facilities debouching to one "warehouse" with multiple drugs?

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rmmtnsd February 25 2014 at 4:33 AM

They got a crook rah rah looks good on the rusume!!!

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cindy February 25 2014 at 3:13 AM

Oh Boy, he's going to implicate so many US officials its not going to be funny..its going to be like it was during Noriega and the H.W Bush era.

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jayrich29 February 25 2014 at 2:27 AM

NEXT..

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1 reply to jayrich29's comment
Manny February 25 2014 at 4:57 AM

OR MAYBE NOT

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BULLMAN February 25 2014 at 2:11 AM

Pretty sure it will still be business as usual.

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Rick February 25 2014 at 2:08 AM

Billion Dollar sewer rat..........
And there's more still down there........

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kubi490 February 25 2014 at 5:09 AM

he is a small fish in a huge pond being one of the many drug cartel lords and before our politicians start thumping their chests I want to know what took us so long

what a crock

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estimatorone February 25 2014 at 1:11 AM

I wonder who the next cartel leader is going to be?
If he is jailed in Mexico, then he will probably remain
pretty much in control of his business. If he gets
sent to the U. S., well, maybe it will be over for him.
This bust will only put a small, maybe even a temporary
dent, in the drug flow to the U. S. (and other countries)
from Mexico.

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kubi490 February 25 2014 at 5:15 AM

he wasn't a leader but rather a small fish in the pond

another political bru-ha-ha....elections just around the corner

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rmfields27 February 25 2014 at 12:31 AM

The arrest reminds me of a wild adventure I had in Culiacan in 1969. If Guzman was involved then he was a very young El Chapo. But at that time, the locals referred to it as the capitol of drug trafficking in the western hemisphere and although the place was crawling with Federales, there wasn't any observable effort to track drugs. The car , a Datsun sport converible had brken down a few miles from Culiacan. It was Christmas Day and we were towed to a repair shop. Repairs would take a fewdays we were told, but a few days extended to a week plus. Set down with our suitcase and hailing a taxi a fellow rode up on a bicycle and gifted me with a large newspaper wrapped bouquet fragrant with uncute marijuana. The taxi took us to a hotel in the center of town. There were unifored federales in the lobby as we registered and were charged double the amount the previous registrants had been charged--$4 a night! The remainder of the week was quite exciting and so was the following week in Mazatlan!

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viocon2 February 25 2014 at 12:21 AM

They will put him in a country club "prison" and he will continue to run business as usual. Who are they kidding. With that type of corruption nothing changes. Just make it look like something is happening.

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champagnekitty February 25 2014 at 12:21 AM

How can such a well-known, highly sought after criminal (chased for 13 years)... be found with two children, small twins still young enough to use playpen - who were born in the United States?
How did THAT happen? Didn't we have his beauty-queen wife, the mother of the babies under surveillance ? Did we have no information, tips, etc...?
Great! Now you see why some of us scream about our lax, lazy, bad immigration policy. Not only do illegal immigrants gush into our county at will, heck... even the top criminal, #1 drug lord chooses America for his kids to be born. And, boom it's done! Unbelievable! Where was the U.S. Customs Bureau to stop this?

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bwess8 February 25 2014 at 1:47 AM

Any beats he gets out again . 100 mil works great as a bribe .
Just say I hit you. He is a hero to the people of Mexico and
Hollywood .

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BULLMAN February 25 2014 at 2:12 AM

Does look so.

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