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El Chapo’s son pleads not guilty to drug trafficking, money laundering charges in Chicago

Federal prosecutors say the 33-year-old and his brothers took over the powerful Sinaloa Cartel following their father's 2017 extradition to the U.S.

CHICAGO (CN) — Ovidio "El Ratón" Guzmán López, son of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel boss known as "El Chapo," pleaded not guilty to multiple drug trafficking and money laundering charges in Chicago's Dirksen Federal Courthouse on Monday.

The 33-year-old Chapo heir was extradited from Mexico to the U.S. on Friday evening, his first court appearance in Chicago marked by the heavy presence of U.S. Marshals.

In a federal indictment issued Last January but only unsealed in April, prosecutors accused El Ratón and his three brothers — the "Chapitos," collectively — of taking over the Sinaloa Cartel following their father's own extradition from Mexico to the U.S. in 2017.

Mexican authorities captured Guzmán López last January in a raid on his home in the Mexican city of Culiacán, capital of the state of Sinaloa for which the cartel is named. It was the second time the Mexican government had taken El Ratón into custody; security forces caught him in a separate raid in 2019, but ended up releasing him after well-armed cartel members took hostages and began attacking military and civilian targets around the city.

“Today, as a result of United States and Mexico law enforcement cooperation, Ovidio Guzmán López, a leader of the Sinaloa Cartel was extradited to the United States," U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland stated in a press release last Friday. "This action is the most recent step in the Justice Department’s effort to attack every aspect of the cartel’s operations."

El Ratón is currently the only one of the Chapitos in U.S. or Mexican custody, though all are named as defendants in a sprawling, multi-district criminal suit against El Chapo — whose real name is Joaquin Guzmán Loera — and over two dozen other Sinaloa figures dating back to 2009.

Garland announced the latest charges against the Chapitos in April alongside Drug Enforcement Administration head Anne Milgram, targeting the brothers specifically for their alleged role in fentanyl trafficking.

Under the brothers' watch, the indictment naming Guzmán López claims, the Sinaloa Cartel continued to move large amounts of cocaine, cannabis and heroin into the U.S. from Central and South America. It also accuses them of dealing in methamphetamine and other precursor chemicals for synthetic drugs.

A separate indictment filed against Guzmán López's brothers, Iván Archivaldo Guzmán Salazar and Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar, in New York, claims El Ratón "bears primary responsibility" for the cartel's fentanyl trafficking and manufacturing efforts.

The same indictment makes more lurid accusations against the Chapitos, claiming they asserted dominance in the drug trade through fear and intimidation, including by feeding living victims — rival drug traffickers, disloyal workers and uncooperative government officials — to pet tigers.

"Once information was obtained by these captives, typically through torture, these individuals were killed — either by or at the direction of the Chapitos themselves — and the bodies disposed of throughout the area. While many of these victims were shot, others were fed dead or alive to tigers," the indictment says.

The brothers have denied those claims, stating in a letter released to the Associated Press last May that they have been made "scapegoats" for larger issues related to the drug trade.

"We have never produced, manufactured or commercialized fentanyl nor any of its derivatives," the letter said. "We are victims of persecution and have been made into scapegoats."

Guzmán López's next court date is set for Nov. 17. No trial date has yet been set.

Jurors in Brooklyn convicted El Chapo himself in February 2019 on multiple drug trafficking and criminal enterprise charges, and in July that year U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan, a Gerorge W. Bush appointee, sentenced him to life-plus-30-year behind bars. He is currently serving out his sentence in ADX Florence, a federal supermax prison located in central Colorado.

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Categories / Criminal, International

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