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Agencies' Behind-The-Scenes Rivalries Figured In Chapitos Case

Last May, a team of federal agents chasing the sons of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo, caught a break. Through a combination of electronic data and human intelligence, the agents had tracked one of the sons — Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar — to the western Mexican state of Sinaloa. Eager to jump into action, the team prepared to work with the Mexican military and go after Guzmán Salazar, one of the world’s most wanted criminals. They were told to stand down by the Justice Department. Another federal agency, the Drug Enforcement Administration, was separately investigating Guzmán’s sons and it was thought that any active measures to take them into custody could disrupt that inquiry and possibly get people killed, reports the New York Times. Under the best circumstances, it is challenging for U.S. federal agents to chase drug lords in Mexico, where they must work with local partners who can be unreliable or untrustworthy.

The episode involving Guzmán Salazar — one of four sons of El Chapo who are known as the Chapitos — points to a problem closer to home: the rivalries that can erupt when different law enforcement agencies go after the same targets. The quarrel pitted DEA officials who helped bring a sprawling indictment against the Chapitos in New York against federal prosecutors and agents in Chicago, Washington and San Diego, who joined forces to bring their own case against Guzmán’s sons. Neither the dispute nor its consequences were visible when Attorney General Merrick Garland, flanked by representatives from several agencies, gathered to announce the new indictments against the Chapitos. Garland celebrated the collective charges as a sweeping assault against the ability of the Guzmáns’ Sinaloa drug cart, to ship fentanyl and other drugs from Mexico across the U.S. border. This week, taking note of the behind-the-scenes spat, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) sent a letter to Garland and to the heads of three law enforcement agencies asking for an explanation about how the pursuit of the New York case may have “impacted any attempts to arrest or capture” Guzmán’s sons.


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