El Chapo trial shows Prez’s pet plan wouldn’t slow flow of drugs



No wall be­tween the U.S. and Mex­ico was go­ing to stop no­to­ri­ous drug dealer El Chapo.

The car­tel leader now on trial in Brook­lyn Fed­eral Court got his il­licit goods across the bor­der all kinds of ways — with planes, trains, cars, trac­tor trail­ers and oil tankers, fish­ing boats and even sub­marines, to name but a few modes of trans­porta­tion men­tioned by nearly a dozen car­tel mem­bers in trial tes­ti­mony.

The gov­ern­ment case says El Chapo — whose for­mal name is Joaquin Guz­man Lo­era — was re­spon­si­ble for about 220 tons of il­licit drugs seized in the U.S. and Canada be­tween 1989 and 2014. Those drugs are val­ued at a colos­sal $14 bil­lion.

For con­text: That’s more than enough for a line of co­caine for ev­ery man, woman and child in Amer­ica, fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors say.

Of course, those 220 tons are just the drugs the gov­ern­ment seized. Judg­ing from trial tes­ti­mony, El Chapo’s Si­naloa car­tel likely got away with smug­gling un­told quan­ti­ties of drugs into the coun­try.

Pres­i­dent Trump in­sists he won’t let much of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment re­open un­less Con­gress agrees to ap­pro­pri­ate $5.7 bil­lion for a wall on the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der. Trump says the wall will help solve the opi­oid cri­sis, which is now claim­ing more Amer­i­can lives than the HIV epi­demic at its height.

“Our south­ern bor­der is a pipe­line for vast quan­ti­ties of il­le­gal drugs, in­clud­ing meth, heroin, co­caine and fen­tanyl,” Trump said in his prime-time ad­dress Tues­day. He claims that a “com­mon sense” phys­i­cal bar­rier will “se­cure the bor­der and stop the crim­i­nal gangs, drug smug­glers and hu­man traf­fick­ers.”

If El Chapo could weigh in, he might dis­agree. Tun­nels

The man once de­scribed by the Trea­sury Depart­ment as “the most pow­er­ful drug traf­ficker in the world” earned his rep­u­ta­tion as king of the nar­co­traf­i­cantes by virtue of his in­no­va­tive cross­bor­der un­der­ground tun­nels.

Je­sus (El Rey) Zam­bada Gar­cia — the brother of Is­mael (El Mayo) Zam­bada, Chapo’s long­time part­ner in crime and the man be­lieved to be lead­ing the Si­naloa car­tel cur­rently — told ju­rors in Novem­ber that tun­nels were a com­plete gamechanger for the car­tel.

“It’s the most se­cure way to cross drugs over to the United States,” Zam­bada Gar­cia said. “And it’s the se­curest way for the money that’s be­ing re­turned back.”

Not only did the tun­nels aid in get­ting drugs into the United States — they gave the car­tel a way to smug­gle weapons back into Mex­ico.

The first wit­ness to tes­tify at Guz­man’s trial, U.S. Cus­toms agent Car­los Salazar, walked the jury through the 1990 dis­cov­ery of a tun­nel that orig­i­nated in Agua Pri­eta, Mex­ico, and ran be­neath the bor­der to a ware­house in Dou­glas, Ariz.

The tun­nel — its Mex­i­can en­trance was be­neath a pool ta­ble — was about half the length of a foot­ball field and

fea­tured a ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem, light­ing and a track that al­lowed tons of co­caine to be wheeled with ease into the U.S. Im­ported goods

One of Chapo’s for­mer hench­men, Miguel An­gel Martinez, tes­ti­fied in Novem­ber about ad­vanced smug­gling tech­niques em­ployed in the early 1990s whereby the car­tel would traf­fic co­caine over the Ti­juana bor­der to Los An­ge­les on trucks os­ten­si­bly im­port­ing canned jalapeno pep­pers.

Chapo did his home­work: The cans, which were pack­aged in a ware­house in Mex­ico, fea­tured la­bel­ing cloned from an ac­tual FDA-ap­proved pep­per com­pany.

An­tic­i­pat­ing in­spec­tions at the bor­der, work­ers placed gravel in­side the tins so that they would sound like they had some­thing in­side. Dur­ing

the early 1990s, the Si­naloa car­tel moved 25 to 30 tons of nar­cotics each year — yield­ing a profit of $400 mil­lion to $500 mil­lion — through le­gal ports of en­try by hid­ing drugs in the pep­per cans. Bribery

Nearly all of the gov­ern­ment in­for­mants to tes­tify at Guz­man’s trial have made clear that bribery was the oil that made the car­tel ma­chine run smoothly.

El Rey Zam­bada tes­ti­fied in Novem­ber about mak­ing monthly pay­ments on his brother’s be­half to high-level Mex­i­can of­fi­cials in the early 2000s that to­taled hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars.

Si­naloa car­tel lead­ers padded the pock­ets of peo­ple in the of­fice of the Mex­i­can at­tor­ney gen­eral, state, fed­eral and lo­cal po­lice, in­ves­ti­ga­tors from the homi­cide unit, air­port au­thor­i­ties and


“In­ter­pol, as well,” Zam­bada told the jury.

Jorge Mil­ton Ci­fuentes Villa, one of Guz­man’s Colom­bian coun­ter­parts, told the jury in De­cem­ber about brib­ing the head of the Ecuado­ran Army to trans­port co­caine for him.

“Army trucks aren’t searched, so there’s no dan­ger of los­ing the co­caine,” he said. Trains

Sev­eral wit­nesses at Guz­man’s trial have tes­ti­fied about us­ing trains to traf­fic vast amounts of nar­cotics to ma­jor U.S. cities like New York, L.A. and Chicago.

Martinez tes­ti­fied in Novem­ber that be­tween 2000 and 2003, he was charged with over­see­ing co­caine ship­ments smug­gled within rail tanker cars pur­port­ing to trans­port cook­ing oil.

Martinez said train tracks were in­stalled in­side ware­houses in Mex­ico City, where work­ers hid thou­sands of ki­los of co­caine in­side se­cret com­part­ments in the tankers.

A few inches of oil added to the tankers threw Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion agents’ dogs off the scent.

Martinez and Pe­dro Flores, a for­mer Chicago-based drug dealer who took the stand in late De­cem­ber, es­ti­mated the trains suc­cess­fully moved 30 to 50 tons of co­caine — val­ued be­tween $500 mil­lion and $800 mil­lion — be­tween 2000 and 2003. Sub­marines

With air and land con­quered, Guz­man sought to ex­pand his op­er­a­tions out to sea in the late 2000s, when his work­ers be­gan trans­port­ing drugs in nar­co­sub­marines.

In early De­cem­ber, Coast Guard Lt. Com­man­der Todd Bagetis de­scribed a dar­ing op­er­a­tion in which his team was “hang­ing on for their dear lives” when nar­cos man­ning a self-pro­pelled, semisub­mersible ves­sel — con­tain­ing $100 mil­lion worth of co­caine — re­versed the en­gines in an ef­fort to throw them off deck dur­ing a 2008 raid in the dark of night.

Coast Guard Adm. Charles Ray wrote to U.S. se­na­tors in Septem­ber 2017, stat­ing that Amer­ica’s mar­itime re­spon­ders had gath­ered in­tel­li­gence on 80% to 90% of drug ship­ments in the east­ern Pa­cific and Caribbean oceans.

Most of the drugs get by law en­force­ment — “we only have the ca­pac­ity to get after about 30% of those,” Ray said.

More proof that if Trump gets his wall, there would be more than one way to get around it.


Mex­i­can druglord El Chapo (top r.) used tun­nels (main photo), sub­marines (above l.) and food con­tain­ers (above r.) stashed on trucks and trains to smug­gle hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars worth of drugs into the U.S., a trade that no bor­der wall de­sign (fac­ing page) would have a chance at stop­ping.

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