- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2004

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration yesterday announced a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of a major Mexican drug smuggler who escaped in 2001 from a Mexican prison to regain control of his internationally based drug trafficking organization.

Joaquin Guzman-Loera, also known as “El Chapo,” is wanted by authorities on charges of conspiracy to import cocaine, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, money laundering and criminal forfeiture.

The reward is offered through the State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Guzman-Loera, 49, rose to prominence in the 1980s as an associate of Miguel Angel Felix-Gallardo, head at the time of the most powerful drug trafficking cartel in Mexico. But he left that organization and soon gained notoriety as the boss of his own international criminal enterprise — known as the Sinaloa Cartel.

Authorities said it was Guzman-Loera’s organization that constructed a sophisticated 200-foot-long, concrete tunnel linking Agua Prieta, Mexico, and Douglas, Ariz., that was used to smuggle tons of cocaine and marijuana into the United States in the early 1990s.

The 30-foot-deep tunnel, 5 feet high and 4 feet wide, connected a warehouse in Douglas, Ariz., with a house in its Mexican neighbor of Agua Prieta. The tunnel was discovered as part of a U.S. Customs Service investigation known as “Operation Catacomb” and was the first “narco-tunnel” discovered along the southwestern border.

With its secret hatches and subterranean rooms, complete with electricity and air conditioning, the tunnel remains among the most advanced ever discovered. Hydraulic lifts at the house in Agua Prieta were used to raise a trapdoor in the floor that led to the tunnel.

In 1993, Guzman-Loera also was named in connection with a 7.3 ton load of cocaine, concealed in cans of chili peppers and bound for the United States, that was seized in Baja California. In May of that year, members of a rival gang, the Arellano-Felix Organization, coordinated a failed attempt to assassinate Guzman-Loera in Guadalajara, Mexico, which resulted in the slaying of the prominent Roman Catholic Cardinal Jan Jesus Posadas-Ocampo.

Guzman-Loera also was behind the construction of another tunnel that stretched from Tijuana, Mexico, and under the U.S.-Mexico border, to Otay Mesa, Calif. It was uncovered in May 1993, not long before Guzman-Loera and several of his top lieutenants were arrested and ultimately sentenced to 15 years in prison on convictions of drug trafficking, weapons violations and murder.

In September 1992, police in El Salvador seized 5.9 tons of cocaine, arresting a Colombian from the Cali Cartel and three members of the Sinaloa Cartel who were preparing the drugs for shipment to Mexico. At the time of the arrests, it was Central America’s largest cocaine seizure.

Guzman-Loera was taken into custody in Mexico’s southern border town of Tapachula as he attempted to cross into Guatemala. Authorities said that in January 2001, he escaped from the maximum-security Puente Grande prison in Jalisco state after bribing guards and prison officials. They said he rode out of prison hidden in a laundry truck and has not been seen since.

Seventy-eight persons, including the prison director, have been implicated in Guzman-Loera’s escape.

DEA spokesman Lawrence R. Payne said Guzman-Loera’s arrest warrant is based on a federal grand jury indictment and stems from a case that DEA’s San Diego office worked on with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and U.S. Marshals Service.

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