CHICAGO (TheBlaze/AP) — A drug kingpin in Mexico who has never set foot in Chicago has been named the city’s new Public Enemy No. 1 – the same notorious label assigned to Al Capone at the height of the Prohibition-era gang wars.
The Chicago Crime Commission considers Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman even more menacing than Capone because he’s the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, which supplies most of the narcotics sold in the city.
“What Al Capone was to beer and whiskey during Prohibition, Guzman is to narcotics,” said Art Bilek, the commission’s executive vice president. “Of the two, Guzman is by far the greater threat. … And he has more power and financial capability than Capone ever dreamed of.”
In an exclusive interview with TheBlaze back in September, Jack Riley, special agent in charge for the Chicago Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), said Guzman is even more dangerous than Capone and the Italian mobs of the past. In fact, he argued that Mexican drug cartels are so embedded in Chicago, that law enforcement has to operate as if they are on the Mexican border.
“If I pitted the Italian organized crime groups against for instance, ‘Chapo’ Guzman and the Sinaloa Cartel, it wouldn’t be a fight,” he said. “His ability to corrupt, his ability to enforce his sanctions and to really do with an endless supply of revenue is in my opinion far greater than older Italian organized crime.”
Riley and Guzman are well acquainted too. The DEA head posed such a threat to the Mexican drug cartels when he ran a DEA operation on the border in El Paso, Guzman reportedly put a bounty on his head.
The commission – a non-government body that tracks city crime trends – designated Capone Public Enemy No. 1 in 1930. It has declared other outlaws public enemies, but Capone was the only one deemed No. 1.
Guzman is thought to be holed up in a mountain hideaway in western Mexico, but he ought to be treated as a local Chicago crime boss for the havoc his cartel creates in the nation’s third-largest city, said Jack Riley, of the Drug Enforcement Administration, which joined the commission in affixing the title to Guzman.
The point of singling out Guzman was to inspire more public support for going after him, Bilek said.
“Ninety-nine percent of the people in the United States have never heard of this man,” he said. “Concerted action … must be taken now against Guzman before he establishes a bigger network and a bigger empire in the United States.”
Capone based his bootlegging and other criminal enterprises in Chicago during Prohibition, when it was illegal to make or sell alcohol in the U.S. He eventually went to prison for income tax evasion, but he gained the greatest notoriety for the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre that left seven rivals dead.
Yet Riley says Guzman – whose nickname means “shorty” in Spanish – is more ruthless than Capone, whose nickname was “Scarface.”
“If I was to put those two guys in a ring, El Chapo would eat that guy (Capone) alive,” Riley told The Associated Press in a recent interview at his office, pointing at pictures of the men.
Riley described Chicago as one of Sinaloa’s most important cities, not only as a final destination for drugs but as a hub to distribute them across the U.S.
“This is where Guzman turns his drugs into money,” he said.
The Department of Justice’s National Drug Intelligence Center estimates that in “2009 and 2010, cartels operated in 1,286 U.S. cities. The center named only 50 cities in 2006,” according to a CNN report. Here’s a graphic to put it into context:
Mexican cartels that ship drugs to Chicago are rarely directly linked to slayings. But Bilek said Thursday that cartel-led trafficking is an underlying cause of territorial battles between street gangs that are blamed for rising homicide rates.
“He virtually has his fingerprints on the guns that are killing the children of this city,” Bilek told a news conference.
Guzman, who has been on the run since escaping from a Mexican prison in a laundry cart in 2001, is one of the world’s most dangerous and most wanted fugitives. He’s also one of the richest: Forbes magazine has estimated his fortune at $1 billion.
Now in his mid-50s, Guzman has been indicted on federal trafficking charges in Chicago and, if he is ever captured alive, U.S. officials want him extradited here to face trial. The U.S. government has offered a $5 million reward for his capture.
“His time is coming,” Riley said. “I can’t wait for that day.”
It was only a coincidence, Bilek said Thursday, that the announcement naming Guzman Public Enemy No. 1 came on the anniversary of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, which raised public pressure to capture Capone.
Within two years of being designated Public Enemy No. 1 in 1930, Capone had been captured, convicted and imprisoned.
With the same label now attached to Guzman, Bilek said, “we hope the same thing will happen to him.”