Federal prosecutors in cities around the U.S. are hoping for the chance to prosecute one of the world’s most-wanted drug traffickers, kingpin “El Chapo” Guzmán. Guzmán was arrested over the weekend at a Mexican beach resort and may never be brought to the U.S. to face charges against him in numerous cities. Still, prosecutors are pushing for extradition and jockeying over who will handle the case.
If extradited, Guzmán could face serious charges in at least seven U.S. cities. Prosecutors in Chicago, where the drug lord is known as “public enemy no. 1,” and New York have already expressed interest in taking on the case. Guzmán also faces charges in San Diego and Texas, where he is accused of running a large cocaine trafficking operation. Former assistant U.S. attorney in Miami, David Weinstein, said, “You want No. 1 to be the best shot that you have… If you shoot at the king, you make sure you hit him in the head.”
“These kinds of fights between U.S. attorneys’ offices are quite common,” said former Justice Department prosecutor David B. Smith. “Often they take a long time to make the decision.” Smith pointed out that politics can also play a role in which prosecutor ultimately gets chosen.
Authorities who have worked on Guzmán’s case and have the strongest facts against him have the best shot at taking on the kingpin, should he be extradited. “Chicago and New York would probably be the two best places to try Guzmán if Mexico chooses to extradite him. The cases are the strongest there and the prosecutors have a lot of experience in dealing with major drug trafficking figures,” said Sylvia Longmire, Breitbart Texas contributing editor and border security expert.
She continued, “The Justice Department does need to take into account the subtleties of each court as well, like the past decisions of judges and general demeanor of the potential jury pool. They’ll do their homework and find the best venue for either securing the easiest conviction with the harshest penalty, or for negotiating the most advantageous plea deal for the US government.”
Guzmán is currently in a Mexican prison where his lawyers have filed an appeal to attempt to prevent extradition.
Some prosecutors think that it is highly unlikely that Guzmán will ever be brought to the U.S. to face charges, since he is a major criminal with deep ties to Mexico’s drug war. Robert Fietel, a former prosecutor for the Justice Department’s dangerous drugs section, said, “He’s a terrorist in their nation. Could you imagine if we were to send someone like him to Mexico if the situation was reversed?”
If Guzmán were brought to the U.S., Mexican officials would not have to worry about him escaping from prison as he did in 2001.
But officials assert that this will not happen again. Mexican politician Osorio Chong said, “We think he’s being perfectly guarded and watched, and we don’t think it’s necessary to do anything else. He will be very isolated. He won’t be allowed to continue with his operations.”
At this time, the Justice Department will not say if an extradition request will be made. The Department said in a statement that a potential request will be “the subject of further discussion between the United States and Mexico.”
Until a decision is made, U.S. prosecutors will likely continue to best position themselves to try the captured drug lord.
Follow Kristin Tate on Twitter @KristinBTate