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Captured drug lord Guzman fled from police in Mexico sewers | TribLIVE.com
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Captured drug lord Guzman fled from police in Mexico sewers

The Associated Press
| Monday, February 24, 2014 12:30 a.m

CULIACAN, Mexico — After fruitlessly pursuing one of the world’s top drug lords for years, authorities finally drew close to Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman by using a cellphone found in a house where drugs were stored.

The phone belonging to a Guzman aide was recovered with clues from an American wiretap and provided a key break in the long chase to find Guzman, 56, officials told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Another big leap forward occurred once police analyzed information from a different wiretap that pointed them to a beachfront condo where the legendary leader of the Sinaloa cartel was hiding, according to a U.S. government official and a senior federal law enforcement official.

When he was finally taken into custody with his beauty-queen wife, Guzman had a military-style assault rifle in the room, but he did not go for it.

A day after the arrest, it was not clear what would happen to Guzman, except that he would be the focus of a lengthy and complicated legal process to decide which country gets to try him first.

Drainage pipes pursuit

The cellphone was found on Feb. 16 in a Culiacan house that Guzman had been using. By the next day, the Mexican military had captured one of Guzman’s top couriers, who promptly provided details of the stash houses Guzman and his associates had been using, the officials said.

At each house, the Mexican military found the same thing: steel reinforced doors and an escape hatch below the bathtubs. Each hatch led to a series of interconnected tunnels in the city’s drainage system.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss how Guzman was captured, said troops who raided his main house in Culiacan chased him through the drainage pipes before losing him in the maze under the city.

On Feb. 18, Guzman aide Manuel Lopez Ozorio was arrested and told officials that he had picked up Guzman, cartel communications chief Carlos Manuel Ramirez and a woman from a drainage pipe and helped them flee to Mazatlan.

When he was finally in handcuffs, the man who had eluded Mexican authorities for more than a decade looked pudgy, bowed and middle-aged in a white button-down shirt and beltless black jeans.

He had successfully eluded authorities since escaping from prison in 2001.

In Mexico, he likely will be charged with a host of counts related to his role as head of the cartel, which is believed to sell cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine in about 54 countries.

Grand juries in at least seven U.S. federal district courts, including Chicago, San Diego, New York and Texas, have issued indictments for Guzman on a variety of charges.

Federal officials in Chicago were among the first to say they want to try him, followed by prosecutors in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Tiscione in Brooklyn said it would be up to Washington to make the final call.

A Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no decisions regarding extradition have been made.

A storied, bloody career

During his 13 years on the run, Guzman was rumored to live everywhere from Argentina to Mexico’s “Golden Triangle,” a mountainous, marijuana-growing region straddling the northern states of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua.

Under his leadership, the cartel grew deadlier and more powerful, taking over much of the trafficking routes along the U.S. border. Guzman watched from western Mexico’s rugged mountains as authorities captured or killed the leaders of every rival group challenging Sinaloa’s perch at the top of global drug trafficking.

The stocky son of a peasant farmer even achieved a slot on Forbes’ billionaires’ list and earned a folkloric status as being too powerful to catch.

Then late last year, authorities started closing on his inner circle. In December, one of the Sinaloa cartel’s main lieutenants was gunned down by Mexican helicopter gunships in a resort town a few hours’ drive to the east.

The noose got tighter this month. Federal forces began sweeping through Culiacan, the capital of the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa, closing streets, raiding houses, seizing automatic weapons, drugs and money, and arresting a series of men Mexican officials carefully described to reporters as top officials for Ismael “Mayo” Zambada, the son of one of Guzman’s two top partners.

On Feb. 13, a man known as “19,” whom officials called the chief of assassins for Zambada, was arrested with two other men on the highway to the coastal resort city of Mazatlan.

Four days later, a man described as a member of the Sinaloa cartel’s upper ranks was seized along with 4,000 hollowed-out cucumbers and bananas stuffed with cocaine. Then a 43-year-old known by the nickname “20” and described as Zambada’s chief of security was arrested while transporting more cocaine-stuffed produce.

By the middle of the week, at least 10 Sinaloa henchmen had been seized. And agents learned that Guzman had started coming down from his isolated mountain hideouts to enjoy the comforts of Culiacan and Mazatlan.

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