MEXICO CITY — With help from U.S. intelligence, Mexican marines captured a son of the Sinaloa drug cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman early Thursday as the toplogistics coordinator for the smuggling organization was rolling out of bed, according to U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials.
The arrest of Jesus Alfredo Guzman comes just weeks after the U.S. Treasury Department designated him a drug trafficking kingpin and a key operative in the Sinaloa cartel, one of Mexico’s largest and most lucrative crime mafias.
Called Alfredillo, or Little Alfred, by his father, the son was allegedly instrumental in coordinating large shipments of cocaine and heroin to the United States, often destined for the Flores brothers distribution network based in Chicago, according to a 2011 U.S. indictment.
He is also charged in the indictment with directing the shipment south of millions of dollars in bulk cash profits.
“This is a very big blow to Chapo and his closest circle. Alfredillo was a high-ranking member of the cartel, not just some lowly relative who got a job because of his blood ties,” said Malcolm Beith, author of “The Last Narco: Inside the Hunt for El Chapo, the World’s Most-Wanted Drug Lord.”
“He was doing his dad’s business,” said a U.S. law enforcement official, who described Alfredillo as “a bit of a flashy guy, but he knew his place.”
Mexican and U.S. law enforcement agencies had been doing “pattern of life” reconnaissance, trying to follow Alfredillo’s movement between safe houses he used in Culiacan and Guadalajara, where he was seized, along with a small cache of weapons, four grenades, two false identification cards, and $135,000 in U.S. dollar bills.
“The timing was right to make a run at him,” said the U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns.
Also known as “El Gordo,” or “Fatso,” Mexican authorities paraded Guzman in front of the media’s cameras. A marine spokesman said the capture was the result of months of intelligence work, with information provided by U.S. agencies, and that Chapo’s son was not only a transporter but in charge of managing his father’s many properties. Special operations units of the Mexican marines made the arrest. Mexican officials suggested he may be extradited to the United States.
Chapo’s four other sons are allegedly still in the drug business.
The arrest of Chapo’s son comes at a time when the Sinaloa cartel and its leader face growing threats from rivals and the government.
On Sunday, Chapo’s nephew and two guests were gunned down by assailants with AK-47 rifles at a Father’s Day celebration in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state. No arrests have been made, though analysts speculate that the attack was orchestrated by Chapo’s arch rivals, the Zetas crime group.
The Zetas and Sinaloa are now at war, pursuing a strategy of intimidation and propaganda by dumping ever greater numbers of headless bodies in public view — with many of the victims most likely innocents.
The brash, young paramilitary Zetas crime organization has been making incursions deep into Chapo’s territory in the western mountains of Mexico.
Political opponents of President Felipe Calderon and some analysts and journalists have accused the ruling party, military and federal police of protecting Chapo and the Sinaloa cartel. They say the military is being used to target his rivals.
But Chapo and his people have been pursued.
His son Ivan Archivaldo Guzman was arrested in 2005 but released three years later by a judge, who is now being investigated. His son Edgar Guzman was killed in May 2008 in a shootout in Culiacan. His brother Arturo Guzman was jailed in 2001 and killed in prison in 2004. Another brother, Miguel Angel Guzman, was arrested in 2005 and is still in jail.
Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has singled out family members and intimates of Chapo six times in the past year for inclusion on the so-called kingpin list, which prohibits U.S. citizens from conducting financial or commercial transactions with the individuals and freezes any assets they may have in the United States.
Many Mexicans suspect that Calderon and his administration will arrest Chapo during the current presidential campaign, which ends July 1, to boost Josefina Vazquez Mota, the standard-bearer for their National Action Party, who is trailing in third place, according to opinion polls.
Yet Chapo remains as elusive as ever, though the U.S. government has a $5 million price on his head.
The drug lord has achieved almost mythic status in Mexico, the subject of flattering ballads, TV documentaries and a dozen books. For the last three years, he has been included on Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s wealthiest people.
He is said to be the 10th-richest man in Mexico, with a net worth of $1 billion, and to oversee a sprawling drug trafficking network with its own militia, air force and submarines that reaches from Argentina to Canada, with franchises in West Africa and Europe.