Even if Mexico extradites ‘El Chapo,’ where will he be prosecuted?

WASHINGTON — With Mexican authorities saying they’re committed to extraditing Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to the United States, it appears more likely than ever that American prosecutors will eventually get their hands on the drug lord.

But it’s not clear exactly how long that process will take, nor which of the offices that have already brought charges against Guzman would get to go first with their cases.

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A look at how Guzman could be extradited.


Mexican authorities say they’ve formally notified Guzman, whose capture Friday came six months after he broke out of a Mexican prison, that arrest warrants from the U.S. are being processed.

That’s the start of the process, though the head of extradition for the Mexican attorney general’s office told local media that it will probably take at least a year to extradite Guzman. And Guzman’s attorney said that the defense already has filed six motions to challenge extradition requests.

The speed of the extradition process is almost entirely up to the Mexican government, said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw the narcotics division at the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami.

“It can go as slow or as fast as they want it to go,” Weinstein said.


About a half-dozen U.S. attorneys’ offices throughout the country — among them in Chicago, San Diego, New York City, New Hampshire, Miami and Texas — have secured indictments against Guzman in his absence over the years.

In the Eastern District of New York, for example, a 49-page grand jury indictment accuses Guzman of running a cartel that imported “multi-ton quantities of heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States” and of employing hit men who carried out murders, kidnapping, tortures and other acts of violence.

Meanwhile, prosecutors in the Western District of Texas accuse Guzman and a series of associates of bringing cocaine and marijuana into the state through vast open desert, across bridges and via other trafficking routes, and then arranging for the proceeds to be smuggled back into Mexico.


No announcement has yet been made, and a Justice Department official said Monday that no decision had been reached on where Guzman would be sent once Mexico actually extradites him. The Justice Department has a designated Office of International Affairs that deals with extradition matters and securing the return of fugitives.

Regardless of where he ends up, it’s safe to expect jockeying among the different offices.

Prosecutors in San Diego, for instance, can point to their experience in going after the Arellano Felix cartel. That group’s former leader, Benjamin Arellano Felix, was extradited from Mexico in 2011 and was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison in 2012.

In Chicago, Guzman has been dubbed “Public Enemy No. 1,” and prosecutors there say the city is a major hub for Guzman’s Sinaloa drug cartel.

Besides its own experience in narcotics cases, the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn counts among its alumni some of the highest-ranking Justice Department officials in Washington, including Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Leslie Caldwell, chief of the department’s criminal division.

There’s often politicking involved in these decisions, and deference is sometimes paid to the office that filed its case first, said Marcos Jimenez, a former U.S. attorney in Miami who oversaw drug cases involving extradited defendants.

But, he said, “the overwhelmingly most important factor is which office has the best case against him and the most likelihood of conviction. I would think that they would put those things together and pick the office that has both the best case and the best team of prosecutors available.”