U.S. Authorities Want Mexico To Extradite 'El Chapo'

Joaquin Guzman remains the focus of intense law enforcement interest. The man who occupied a prominent place for years on the DEA's most-wanted list is still wanted to face trial in a U.S. courtroom.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Here in the U.S., El Chapo Guzman remains the focus of intense law enforcement here interest. The man who for years occupied a prominent place on the DEA Most Wanted List is still wanted to face trial in an American courtroom.

Here with us to talk about that is NPR Justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Good morning.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And first off, will El Chapo ever be extradited to the U.S. to face charges here?

JOHNSON: American authorities certainly hope so. Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn said yesterday they're going to try to bring him onto U.S. soil, but there could be a fight brewing, Renee, because he's also been charged in Texas, Arizona, California and Illinois. And it's kind of sensitive diplomatically. I talked yesterday with a prosecutor named Jason Weinstein, a former prosecutor who's handled some of these extraditions.

He points out the capture is really important to Mexico and the U.S. does not want to steal the thunder of the new president, but the U.S. government also wants to make sure that Guzman doesn't escape the clutches of law enforcement again, as he did more than a dozen years ago when he made a daring escape out of a prison in Mexico.

And he's had some military and law enforcement from that country on his payroll in the past.

MONTAGNE: Okay. So American prosecutors, as you've just said, are vying to be the ones to bring El Chapo to justice, whether they are able to do that or not, but what does that say about his reach and longevity?

JOHNSON: The notion that he's been charged in six or seven or eight districts in the U.S. says a lot about how long he's been around and how much he's penetrated American drug markets for things like heroin, meth, marijuana, cocaine. He's facing conspiracy charges here, Renee, money laundering and attendant violence. Last year, the Chicago Crime Commission named him public enemy number one, which is actually a dubious distinction previously held by mobster Al Capone.

And U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says Guzman's arrest represents a milestone in efforts to hold him accountable for bloodshed and destruction on both sides of the border. In the past, among American law enforcement officials, his pursuit has become kind of a dark joke, as someone told me yesterday. Oh, yeah, I saw Guzman. We were 100 yards away from him, but he always got away, until this time.

MONTAGNE: Well, we just heard Carrie Kahn's dramatic tale of how Mexican forces caught El Chapo. What about the role that the U.S. played?

JOHNSON: American authorities are telling me we should not discount the nature of the relationships that were fortified and forged under the previous president of Mexico. There's been a lot of money flowing across the border to help Mexican law enforcement and a lot of information-sharing, not just at the Justice Department and DEA level, but also immigrations and customs enforcement, which we understand, Renee, played a big role in helping to crack this case.

And it just required a lot of patience, I'm hearing, a lot of getting wiretaps, as Carrie Kahn mentioned, but also finding individuals who had a little bit of information, apprehending them, and getting them to build a case and build a picture of the internal operations of Guzman's inner circle.

MONTAGNE: And finally, Carrie, El Chapo, Joaquin Guzman, is just one man, I mean it's his cartel network, his business, if you will, but it remains in place. What is U.S. law enforcement saying about that?

JOHNSON: U.S. authorities are telling me it's huge to get Guzman, who after all was the subject of an intense manhunt for years and had been - he had a $5 million reward on his head from the U.S. government, Renee. But they're cautious because they're not sure whether somebody else is going to be able to become the CEO of that huge multinational corporation that Guzman created. And his absence now may embolden other competitors who want to take over lucrative markets that he's penetrated, not just in the U.S. but even into Asia. And as we know from past organized crime takedowns, sometimes that means violence accompanies those transitions. And so U.S. authorities are vowing to continue to work with Mexico to keep an eye on this situation.

MONTAGNE: Carrie, thanks very much.

JOHNSON: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's justice correspondent, Carrie Johnson. And in the coming weeks, you will be hearing Steve Inskeep from Mexico. He'll be reporting on life in communities along the U.S.-Mexican border.

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