N.H. prosecutor: Mexican drug kingpin’s arrest may affect trials
Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican navy marines at a navy hanger in Mexico City, Mexico, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. After 13 years on the run, narrow escapes from the military, law enforcement and rivals, Guzman is back in Mexican custody. Now starts what is likely to be a lengthy and complicated legal process to decide which country gets to try him first. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
New Hampshire’s top federal prosecutor said he’s not sure how the arrest of Mexico’s top drug kingpin will affect the prosecution this summer of four reputed members of the Sinaloa drug cartel.
The cartel’s notorious leader, Joaquin Guzman – known as “El Chapo” – was arrested Saturday in the Mexican port city of Mazatlan after 13 years on the run. He is one of seven defendants named in a 2011 New Hampshire indictment charging all seven with conspiracy to distribute more than 1,000 pounds of cocaine and other drugs.
U.S. Attorney John Kacavas said New Hampshire is one of seven federal districts vying to prosecute Guzman if the Mexican government agrees to extradite him. The others are two districts in Texas and districts in New York, California, Illinois and Florida.
Kacavas said he has no idea what the odds are that Guzman would be prosecuted in New Hampshire.
“I have nothing to say about where he is prosecuted,” Kacavas said. “This is way over my pay grade.”
Kacavas said New Hampshire prosecutors are still on track to try four defendants charged with the conspiracy in June in U.S. District Court in Concord.
Manuel Jesus Gutierez Guzman, Rafael Humberto Celaya Valenzuela, Samuel Zazueta Valenzuela were arrested in the port city of Algeciras, Spain in 2012. Manuel Guzman is Joaquin Guzman’s cousin.
Jesus Soto was also arrested in Spain in 2012. Although he is alleged to be part of the same conspiracy, prosecutors have charged him in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to distribute 5 or more kilograms of cocaine. He is scheduled to be tried separately.
Since Joaquin Guzman’s escape from a Mexican prison in 2001, authorities say he ran the cartel from a series of hideouts and safe houses across Mexico and earned billions of dollars moving tons of cocaine and other drugs into the United States.
Authorities said the investigation behind the New Hampshire indictments began in 2009. Undercover FBI agents later posed as members of a European drug trafficking organization and held numerous meetings with the arrested men in Spain, Mexico and the United States. Two of those meetings, according to court documents, took place in New Castle and Portsmouth.
Prosecutors said the cartel in July 2012 sent test shipments of pineapples and plantains from South America to Spain, then followed up with more than 750 pounds of cocaine. That shipment was intercepted by the police at the port of Algeciras, officials said.