US played pivotal role in capture of Mexican drug kingpin

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by ANGELA KOCHERGA

WFAA Border Bureau

Posted on February 25, 2014 at 12:26 AM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 25 at 12:40 AM

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — U.S. law enforcement agencies worked closely with Mexico to capture the world’s most wanted drug trafficker, providing key information that helped Mexican marines close in on Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera.

"We assisted Mexican authorities by providing them intelligence. And it was up to Mexican authorities to take action on that intelligence and follow it up," said Robert Almonte, U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Texas.

The U.S. Marshals Service, Homeland Security Investigations and Drug Enforcement Administration provided intelligence to their Mexican counterparts that helped pinpoint Guzman’s exact location in the resort city of Mazatlan on Saturday, ending a 13-year manhunt.

Mexican marines tracked Guzman from the Sinaloa cartel stronghold Culiacan, where they nearly captured him at his home. But Guzman escaped through a trap door in the bathroom that led to a network of storm drains.

Investigators picked up his trail again at a condominium in Mazatlan and broke down the door as the kingpin nicknamed "Shorty" was cooking breakfast with his beauty queen wife.

“I can’t elaborate exactly on what we did. I’m sure you understand there are other drug cartel leaders we need to go after,” Almonte said.

Another U.S. law enforcement official with knowledge of the joint operation who is not authorized to comment said Mexico gave American agencies permission to help find El Chapo in Mexico, but set a time line of about a month.

On the streets of Mexico’s biggest border city, Ciudad Juarez, nobody is surprised the U.S. played a key role in Guzman's capture.

"They had to work with Mexico, because that’s the only way they’re going to catch him,” said Martin Rosales, an El Paso resident who was buying green chile burritos to go from his favorite street vendor.

Mexico has formally charged Guzman with cocaine trafficking, which will delay efforts to extradite him to the U.S. to face drug charges.

Both countries consider El Chapo’s arrest a milestone, but in Ciudad Juarez — a key link in his vast drug trafficking network — border residents do not expect the capture of the Sinaloa cartel kingpin to affect day-to-day smuggling.

"There’s already a new leader," said Jose Flores, a cowboy from Parral, Chihuahua who was visiting relatives. "Everything will continue the same."

E-mail akocherga@gannett.com

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