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Notorious Mexican Drug Kingpin El Chapo's Son Pleads Not Guilty to U.S. Federal Drug Charges

By Natasha Bakirci, LLB, LLM | Last updated on

You might remember reading about "El Chapo." Joaquin Guzman Loera, known by the Spanish nickname "Shorty," is undoubtedly one of the most infamous drug kingpins in recent history. The Forbes-listed billionaire was the leader of the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel, a major global drug trafficking organization. After creatively escaping Mexican prison twice, once in 2001 in a laundry cart and later through an underground tunnel that had an opening in a shower in the drug lord's cell, the legendary El Chapo was eventually extradited to the U.S. in 2017. He is now serving a life sentence at the ADX Florence Supermax prison in Colorado.

It is alleged that after El Chapo's imprisonment, his four sons — known collectively as "Los Chapitos" (Little Chapos) took over the family business.

'El Raton' Extradited to the U.S.

El Chapo's son, Ovidio Guzman Lopez, has his own nickname: El Raton. "The Mouse" was extradited to the U.S. from Mexico on September 15. The 33 year-old was as determined to avoid extradition and imprisonment as his notorious Dad. In January, 2023, Mexican security forces in the city of Culiacan, Sinaloa state's capital, engaged in a violent stand-off with Ovidio, leaving 30 people dead. Ten military personnel died in the fighting. Mexican authorities urged civilians to stay at home for their safety, as clashes between cartel members and law enforcement officers raged throughout the city. The U.S. requested Ovidio's extradition in February, 2023.

A previous attempt to arrest Ovidio in 2019 had led to such deadly cartel chaos, dubbed the "Battle of Culiacan," that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador himself ordered that he be released, fearing more bloodshed. This led to rumors of corruption and collusion, however.

El Chapo's Son Pleads Not Guilty

In his first appearance in federal court in Chicago on September 18, the shackled defendant denied the charges against him. Charges included fentanyl trafficking, weapons possession, and money laundering. Two of the six charges carry a mandatory life sentence. Although being the leader of a criminal syndicate that trafficked more than $10 million of illegal narcotics per year can be punishable by the death penalty, the Chicago Tribune reported that the U.S. agreed not to pursue the death penalty as a condition of its extradition negotiations with Mexico.

Ovidio has also been indicted in the Southern District of New York on charges of continuing criminal enterprise, fentanyl importation and distribution conspiracy, possession of and conspiracy to possess machine guns and destructive devices, and conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to a Department of Justice (DOJ) press release.

An April, 2023 indictment against Ovidio alleges that he had set up an "outpost" near Mexico City, where heroin buyers could purchase fentanyl to mix with their heroin, in an orchestrated attempt to encourage users of other drugs towards fentanyl.

Fentanyl Fatalities

This month's arrest and extradition of "El Nuevo Raton," another one of Ovidio's aliases, has been heralded by U.S. law enforcement officials as a decisive victory for the Biden administration against the lethal synthetic drug fentanyl, which has been flowing into the U.S. from Mexico through its Southern border.

Fentanyl has been identified as the leading cause of death for Americans between 18 and 49 years of age by studies conducted by the Washington Post. The powerful opioid, approximately 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine and 25-50 times more potent than heroin is a major threat to American public health. Overdoses of the highly addictive fentanyl have been described as "the single greatest challenge we face as a country" by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. It is estimated that the drug is responsible for 200 U.S. deaths a day.

Although the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has attributed a large part of the fentanyl smuggled into the U.S. to the Sinaloa cartel and the "Chapito" brothers, they deny any involvement with the illegal substance or any of its derivatives.

Foreseeable Future

Ovidio will be held without bail until his next court date on November 17, 2023. He has not requested a detention hearing, which is his right (he has waived it). His three brothers remain at large.

There is great interest in the underground world of drug cartels, evidenced by the wide array of series and documentaries which have this as their subject matter (including the Univision/Netflix production, El Chapo). This is a global epidemic and struggle. For example, narcotics might be produced in Asia or Central and South America to be smuggled to the U.S. It poses a terrifying risk to public health and safety, as well as challenges for law enforcement. But as long as this industry continues to be absurdly lucrative, its attraction will be difficult to quell.

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