Ovidio Guzmán, a son of former drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán who allegedly became a major trafficker himself – and a protagonist in America’s fentanyl boom – has been extradited to the United States, the Justice Department said Friday.
Prosecutors allege that the younger Guzmán, 33, helped run what Attorney General Merrick Garland has called “the largest, most violent, and most prolific fentanyl trafficking operation in the world.” U.S. prosecutors say he and his brothers became key leaders of the Sinaloa cartel after their father was arrested in 2016.
Mexican army and national guard troops captured Guzmán in the Sinaloa city of Culiacán in January in gun battles that left at least 29 people dead. He has been indicted in New York, Chicago and D.C. on federal charges of trafficking fentanyl, cocaine, heroin and other illegal drugs to the United States.
Guzmán’s extradition had been a priority for the Biden administration, which has intensified pressure on Mexico to curb the production of fentanyl as it has devastated American communities. U.S. officials view extradition as crucial because major traffickers have taken advantage of lax controls at Mexican prisons in the past to either escape or continue running their drug empires from behind bars.
Mexican officials have said privately in recent weeks that they thought Guzmán’s extradition process would take another year, as he exhausted potential appeals.
It was not clear why the extradition was suddenly approved and executed. U.S. authorities announced it Friday evening, as much of Mexico was celebrating the country’s Independence Day holiday. There was no immediate comment from senior Mexican officials.
Garland on Friday praised the cooperation of U.S. and Mexican authorities and expressed gratitude for those who “have given their lives in the pursuit of justice.”
“This action is the most recent step in the Justice Department’s effort to attack every aspect of the cartel’s operations,” Garland said in a statement. “The Justice Department will continue to hold accountable those responsible for fueling the opioid epidemic that has devastated too many communities across the country.”
Federal prosecutors allege that the Sinaloa cartel has been a pioneer in large-scale fentanyl production – obtaining precursor chemicals largely from China, manufacturing the drug in Mexico and then smuggling it into the United States.
Fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 49, authorities say. Between 2019 and 2021, fatal overdoses increased by 94 percent. An estimated 196 Americans die per day from fentanyl, according to the Justice Department.
While U.S. prosecutors have called Ovidio Guzmán a major fentanyl trafficker, it wasn’t clear he would be tried any time soon for that crime. Garland did not say where Guzmán had been sent Friday. But the Chicago Tribune reported that he would first stand trial in Illinois.
Indictments there accuse Guzmán and three of his brothers of shipping huge amounts of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana to the United States. The United States has offered a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of the two oldest brothers, Iván and Jesús Alfredo, and a $5 million award for the younger brother, Joaquín. The siblings are collectively known as the Chapitos.
Their father, Joaquín Guzmán, 66, was found guilty by a federal jury in New York in 2019 of drug trafficking, money laundering and weapons charges. He was sentenced to life plus 30 years, and is now at the Administrative Maximum U.S. Penitentiary, or Supermax, in Florence, Colo.
The hunt for Ovidio Guzmán was a long and painful exercise for the government of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The Mexican military captured the alleged trafficker in 2019 but was forced to release him after Sinaloa cartel gunmen seized control of Culiacán and threatened a bloodbath. The president was widely criticized after signing off on that decision.