Prosecuting El Chapo was about more than money. But taking the profit out of crime was certainly part of it.
Renowned Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman Loera — aka El Chapo — had fun while it lasted.
But now the legal bill has come due for one of the all-time biggest drug dealers, and it’s huge.
El Chapo is scheduled to be sentenced July 17 at a U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, and it won’t be a pleasant experience for him. A life sentence is required by law.
At the same time, federal prosecutors recently filed an extraordinary legal motion demanding that El Chapo forfeit $12.7 billion (yes, billion) in illegal profits from his amazingly successful criminal enterprise.
The feds put together what they called a “conservative” estimate of his profits in the drug trade, and it’s a stunner. What’s especially surprising is that, if the feds are right, he really made a lot more than what they conservatively estimate.
At any rate, El Chapo was a big-time dealer who dealt with other big-time dealers to generate some big-time profits. After all, how many people pay their bills by filling shipping containers with as much as $5 million in cash and sending them to Colombia.
Considering the huge volume of illegal drugs El Chapo distributed, the shipping container business probably went both ways.
The government estimates that between the early 1990s until his 2016 arrest, El Chapo handled 600,000 kilograms of cocaine (worth more than $11 billion), 200 kilograms of heroin (worth more than $11 million) and 420,000 kilograms of marijuana (worth about $850 million).
Authorities came up with their numbers by adding up all the narcotics supplied to him by just a handful of his many suppliers.
Two of El Chapo’s suppliers — Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia and Jorge Cifuentes-Villa — testified against their one-time customer. To buttress the forfeiture motion, Jose Yusti Llano, identified as El Chapo’s chief financial officer, provided prosecutors an affidavit explaining how his boss managed to pay his suppliers for the vast quantities of illegal drugs they shipped to him.
Of course, it is easy to ask for a court forfeiture order. It is much harder to collect.
El Chapo lived an extravagant life, maintaining his own fleet of planes, stocking a zoo and purchasing yachts, and lord knows what else.
But just where are all the ill-gotten gains now?
El Chapo’s lawyer dismissed suggestions that their client is hiding vast sums of money or other assets the government could seize.
“This is largely an academic exercise as the government has never located or identified even a penny of this $12.7 billion in proceeds supposedly generated by (El Chapo),” said one of his lawyers, Jeffrey Litchman.
Well, everyone will just have to wait and see what the government can find.
Remember, they play long game and have vast resources available to assist them in their search.
One thing, however, is crystal clear. While the feds do not have El Chapo’s $12.7 billion, they most certainly have him.
Convicted of committing a variety of criminal offenses, including overseeing a continuing criminal enterprise, El Chapo was the ruthless leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico. Somewhat of a hero in Mexican society, El Chapo was famous for repeatedly eluding authorities’ efforts to catch him and keep him behind bars.
Here, too, is another reality.
El Chapo may have been selling illegal drugs on a grand scale, but he was distributing his wares to willing buyers who had their own willing buyers.
Unfortunately, this country represents, among other things, a huge market to purveyors of illegal drugs. The demand is enormous, and, as a consequence, the efforts to meet that demand also are enormous.
With huge risks — drug dealing is a nasty, violent game — come big gains — the $12.7 billion in revenue — and big losses — El Chapo’s impending prison sentence.
For now and maybe forever, El Chapo is out of the game. But it’s a certainty that many other would-be El Chapos have stepped forward to take his place and make their mark.