The Drug Enforcement Administration agent who led the hunt that culminated in Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s 2014 capture said Mexican federal police were left out of the loop because they simply couldn’t be trusted.
Victor J. Vasquez, a group supervisor with the DEA, was the lead U.S. liaison officer embedded on the ground with members of the Mexican marine corps in the 2014 manhunt for leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel.
The decision was made early on not to involve members of the Mexican federal police following multiple botched attempts to capture the fugitive drug lords, which Vasquez attributed Wednesday to rampant police corruption.
“We had done it with them before and simply, the corruption level — using them again was not going to work,” he testified.
During his testimony, Vasquez revealed for the first time how agents initially set out to capture Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia — a blow to the defense, which has repeatedly questioned why authorities have never gone after its client’s alleged partner-in-crime.
The witness said approximately 100 special ops personnel began planning an operation to capture El Mayo in January 2014 at a Mexican marine corps base situated in the Mexican city of La Paz, about two hours north of their targets in the city of Culiacan.
Vasquez said the high-risk operation needed to be planned at a distance from Chapo and Mayo’s home state, where they employed too many sets of eyes.
“In Culiacan, you’re going into the lion’s den,” Vasquez said. “You’re going into the area of control of the most powerful cartel in the world.”
The witness said no more than 100 law enforcement agents participated in the operation, as it was simply too risky if someone leaked.
“It was the first time it was ever done,” with so few officers, Vasquez said.
Jurors were shown video footage of Vasquez and others aboard a Black Hawk flying above the Sea of Cortez en route to a ranch on the outskirts of Culiacan, where they believed Mayo was hiding.
When authorities arrived at Mayo’s ranch, he was nowhere to be found. Two of his associates were arrested and a caretaker provided them with coordinates leading to a cache of weapons.
Vasquez continues on the stand Thursday. He is expected to testify about El Chapo’s second capture — which wouldn’t be his last.
Guzman has been on trial in federal court in Brooklyn since November 2018. He has pleaded not guilty to more than a dozen felony charges related to drug trafficking, murder conspiracy, firearms and money laundering.
If convicted of the top count, leading the notorious Sinaloa Cartel, he faces life behind bars.
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