DRUG WARRIOR: INSIDE THE HUNT FOR EL CHAPO AND THE RISE OF THE OPIOID CRISIS
By Jack Riley with Mitch Weiss
Hachette Books, $27, 272 pages
Mexican drug lord Joaqun “El Chapo’ Guzman, once the world’s most wanted man, was convicted of drug trafficking charges last month in New York and he will be sentenced this coming June.
Guzman will perhaps become an inmate of the “Supermax” federal prison in Florence, Colorado. Guzman, who previously escaped not once, but twice, from Mexican high-security prisons, will have little chance to escape from this prison. He’ll probably spend the rest of his life, 23 hours a day, in a 7-by-12-foot cell.
And so ends the saga of the infamous criminal.
Retired Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent Jack Riley offers a look back at his career and his three-decade long pursuit of Guzman in “Drug Warrior: Inside the Hunt for El Chapo and the Rise of the Opioid Crisis.”
Mr. Riley, the grandson of a tough Chicago cop, tells of his life from a young DEA special agent working undercover on the streets of Chicago to the highest levels in American law enforcement. He served as the special agent in charge (SAC) of the El Paso Field Division and served as the first director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. A Chicago native, he went on to serves as the SAC of the Chicago Field Division and was later promoted to be the DEA’s chief of operations, the third-ranking position in the DEA. His last position was as deputy administrator, the number two spot in the DEA. He retired as the DEA’s highest-ranking special agent in 2016.
The book is mostly about Mr. Riley’s efforts to capture Guzman and smash his Sinaloa drug cartel. He calls Guzman a sociopath and a mass murderer but concedes that he was also a brilliant and innovative CEO of his illegal drug empire. He notes that Guzman recognized the growing abuse of prescription drugs in the United States long before law enforcement officials did. Mr. Riley called Guzman a marketing and logistical genius, a ruthless businessman, a born smuggler, and truly evil. He recalls how Guzman made it very personal by placing a bounty on the DEA boss’ head.
He discounts the Guzman myth: Mexican folk hero, noble peasant and a rich man who helped the poor by building schools, hospitals and water systems. He knew Guzman was no Robin Hood. Barely literate, Guzman was schooled in the drug trade. He was, according to Mr. Riley, “a criminal, but an enterprising, outside-the-box thinker, a master manipulator, a born businessman.”
Prior to taking on Guzman, Mr. Riley writes of his time undercover in Chicago taking down violent biker gangs and crooked Chicago cops who were dealing drugs. He credits his mentors with stressing the need for inter-agency cooperation and information sharing among law enforcement agencies. He also writes of his happy homelife with his wife and son, and his regret of having to uproot them several times as he moved onto new positions in the DEA.
As his career was coming to an end, he vowed not to retire until Guzman was in prison for good. Finally, after being on the run for some time, Guzman was hunted down by Mexican marines with the help of DEA advisers on the ground and DEA electronic equipment. From his number two position in the DEA, he coordinated activities and watched from afar as Guzman was finally arrested. He had a DEA special agent send him a photo of Guzman in handcuffs.
Mr. Riley then campaigned to have Guzman extradited to the United States, as he knew no Mexican prison would hold him, considering his wealth and his ability to corrupt Mexican officials. When U.S. officials took the death penalty off the table, Mexico agreed to hand over Guzman to American authorities.
“I’m simply a cop, not a politician. I am sworn to enforce the laws of the Untied States. So, for me, this boils down to good versus evil. I can think of no one on the face of the earth more evil than Guzman,” Mr. Riley writes. “I saw what he did in Mexico, killing thousands of innocent and corrupting virtually every corner of the Mexican government. Later I saw what he did to my beloved Chicago and other cities across the country.”
Noting that the DEA was a family of happy warriors and no one did anything there by themselves, he states that he didn’t single-handedly end Guzman’s murderous reign.
“No, but I was honored to lead and work with hundreds of heroic DEA special agents, police officers, prosecutors, and our foreign counterparts as we risked everything to put Guzman on trial, and behind bars, in the United States”.
“Drug Warrior” is an interesting look at the life and times of both Guzman, a major drug trafficker, and Mr. Riley, the DEA special agent who relentlessly pursued him.
• Paul Davis is a writer who covers crime, espionage and terrorism.