A billionaire drug lord whose notorious cocaine trafficking while living life on the run has landed him at #701 on Forbes magazine's list of the world's richest billionaires, is one of 43 individuals indicted today by the Justice Department for allegedly shipping billions of dollars of cocaine from Mexico into the U.S.
Joaquin "el Chapo" Guzman-Loera, who has long evaded authorities as leader of the Sinaloa Drug cartel, was charged along with other top drug lords - Ismael "El mayo" Zambada-Garcia and Arturo Beltran-Leyva - for running the drug trafficking network. The three are all still on the lam.
Indictments returned from grand juries in Chicago and Brooklyn allege that the men involved in these drug trafficking networks are responsible for bringing over 200 metric tons of cocaine and large stashes of heroin into the U.S. The new indictments will also allow U.S. and Mexican authorities to seek forfeiture of $5.8 billion in drug revenue.
Attorney General Eric Holder said, "These are not symbolic acts that we are taking today. Our intention is to indict these people, to get these people to the United States, and to put them in jail for extended periods of time. This is not simply an expression of displeasure by the United States government."
Guzman has been on the run since 2001, when he bribed guards in a Guadalajara prison to let him escape while serving a 20-year sentence. Since building his cartel in the late 1980s, Guzman has used connections with Columbian drug traffickers and with shipping and air transport workers to traffick vast quantities of cocaine from Colombia's Norte Del Valle cartel, which filled the void after the Cali and Medellin cartels declined in prominence. In the 1990s, Guzman used drug tunnels to get cocaine across the U.S.-Mexican Border.
According to DEA officials, "el Chapo" and his network areso good at moving cocaine that Colombian drug traffickers arranged 747 cargo planes to fly into Mexico from Colombia filled with drugs. The officials say the planes would circle airfields waiting for appropriate times to land. As "el Chapo" become more established, he moved to even bigger drug shipments using cargo ships, submarines and semi-submersible boats to move drugs.
The cartels are responsible for increased violence in Mexico as they fight for major drug transshipment routes into the U.S. and use their resources to corrupt officials and wage a drug war against Mexican authorities.
Guzman is no stranger to U.S. federal indictments: He was indicted initially in 1993 by a federal grand jury in Arizona on drug charges. Then, in 1995, he was indicted by a San Diego grand jury on money laundering charges for allegedly shipping eight tons of cocaine into the U.S. In 2004, the DEA offered a $5,000,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
Asked at a news conference today why the U.S. was seeking more charges against him, Acting DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart said, " We're often asked, you know, you can indict over and over again, and why do you do that? It's simple. These indictments now are more recent. And every time we-- we target and go after these cartel leaders, we find out more and more ways to attack them. And that's why we continue to do it."
Megan Chuchmach contributed to this report.