Born December 25, 1954 or April 4, 1957, Mexico, Joaquín Guzmán Loera entered the drug trade as a teenager. Nicknamed “El Chapo” (or “Shorty” for his 5’6″ height) he founded the Sinaloa cartel in 1989, over time building it into an immensely profitable global drug-trafficking operation. Known for his violent actions and powerful influence, Guzmán successfully orchestrated daring escapes from maximum-security prisons in his home country.
One such escape came in July 2015, although he was recaptured the following January in the Mexican city of Los Mochis. Extradited to New York City to stand trial, the drug lord was found guilty on all counts in February 2019.
‘El Chapo’ Netflix
In April 2017 Netflix released the first season of its crime drama, El Chapo, which depicts the rise and eventual downfall of the notorious drug kingpin, played by actor Marco de la O. The second season was released in September of the same year.
Guzmán is one of the world’s richest people, with a net worth estimated at $1 billion dollars.
El Chapo’s Children
It’s believed Guzmán has married at least three times and is the father of nine, possibly 13 children. Among his children who have taken roles within their father’s drug-trafficking business, Ivan Guzman is perhaps one of the most conspicuous, sharing his extravagant playboy lifestyle full of cars, wild animals, guns and parties, on social media.
Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera was born in the rural Mexican town of Badiraguato. The date of his birth is believed to be April 4, 1957, according to Time magazine, although other outlets list December 25, 1954, as his birthday. Guzmán’s childhood was shaped by his family’s poverty and his abusive father, a violent man who was in the drug trade.
By his teens, Guzmán had been kicked out of the family home and was forced to make his own way. With little schooling in his background, he eventually found himself following his father’s path, growing marijuana for small amounts of cash.
Rise to Power
By the late 1970s, Guzmán had proven his value in the narcotics business and begun working with another rising young dealer named Héctor Luis Palma Salazar. Guzmán oversaw the movement of drugs from his home district of Sinaloa, a crucial drug trafficking area on the western end of Mexico where narcotics flowed north to coastal cities and into the United States.
By his late 20s, the quiet but savvy Guzmán was supervising logistics for another drug kingpin, Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, founder of the Guadalajara cartel. Guzmán kept a low profile, but when his boss was eventually arrested for the 1985 murder of an American Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent, he quickly emerged as one of the new faces of the Mexican drug world.
Sinaloa Drug Cartel
Inheriting some of his former boss’ territory, Guzmán founded his own cartel, known as Sinaloa, in 1989. By the early 1990s, Guzmán was on the radar of the DEA and FBI and was considered one of Mexico’s most powerful and dangerous drug traffickers.
As the power of the Colombian drug cartels like Medellin and Cali began to wane, Sinaloa was among the Mexican organizations filling the void. Under Guzmán’s direction, it took control of the cocaine trade extending from South America to the United States.
Part of the success stemmed from Sinaloa’s creative smuggling methods, most notably a series of air-conditioned tunnels that ran under the Mexican-U.S. border. Another method involved hiding cocaine powder inside fire extinguishers and cans that were labeled “chili peppers.”
“What Al Capone was to beer and whiskey during Prohibition, Guzmán is to narcotics,” said Art Bilek, executive vice president of the Chicago Crime Commission. “Of the two, Guzmán is by far the greater threat . . .And he has more power and financial capability than Capone ever dreamed of.”
In addition to cocaine, Sinaloa trafficked heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine into the U.S. and beyond. Eventually, the cartel’s tentacles touched five continents and grew to be the biggest drug operation in the world.
Guzmán coupled that success with serious muscle. He established gangs with names such as “Los Chachos,” “Los Texas,” “Los Lobos” and “Los Negros” to protect his empire. Over the years, Guzmán’s men have been accused of committing more than 1,000 murders throughout Mexico, the casualties including both incompetent henchmen and rival bosses.
Arrests and Escapes
In 1993, Guatemalan authorities arrested Guzmán and extradited him to Mexico, where he was convicted and sentenced to a maximum-security prison for 20 years.
Even behind bars, however, Guzmán maintained his power. Through bribes he arranged for conjugal visits and was largely allowed to run his drug operation. With his near-mythical lore already established in Mexico — many villages in his home district saw Guzmán as a Robin Hood-like figure — his legend grew in 2001 when, with the help of bribed prison guards, he escaped prison via a laundry cart. A federal investigation led to the arrest of 71 prison employees, including the warden.
On the lam but not out of the drug business, Guzmán only tightened his control and expanded his fortunes over the next decade and a half. In 2009, Sinaloa was reportedly pulling in $3 billion annually, putting Guzmán’s net worth at around $1 billion. That earned him the No. 701 ranking on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people.
Guzmán quickly became the No. 1 drug target of the U.S. government, which offered a $5 million reward for information that led to his arrest. In 2012, the U.S. authorities froze the American assets of his family members.
An aggressive assault on drug cartels started by the Mexican government in 2006 failed to uncover Guzmán, who moved freely around his country. He even got married during that time period, celebrating the event with a large party that included police officers and local politicians among the guests. In all, it is believed Guzmán has married at least three times and is the father of nine, possibly 13 children.
In February 2014, Guzmán was finally apprehended in a hotel in the Pacific beach town of Mazatlán, Mexico. Declining requests by American officials to have Guzmán extradited to the United States, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto vowed that Guzmán wouldn’t escape again.
“[It] would be more than regrettable,” Peña Nieto said at the time, “It would be unforgivable for the government not to take the precautions to ensure that what happened last time would not be repeated.”
Yet, less than 18 months later, Guzmán orchestrated a second daring flight from prison in July 2015. For this escape, Guzmán slipped through an opening in his cell’s shower section, made his way down a 30-foot ladder, and then traveled through a tunnel network that connected his cell to a house that was still under construction about a mile away.
On October 17, 2015, Guzmán was reportedly injured on his face and leg when escaping a failed military manhunt to capture him in the mountains of northwest Mexico. Around that same time, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, he conducted a secret interview with American actor Sean Penn. Guzmán wanted to make a movie about his life, and managed to connect to Penn via Mexican actress Kate del Castillo.
Recaptured, Extradited to the U.S.
On January 8, 2016, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced on Twitter that Mexican authorities had recaptured Guzmán after a shootout earlier that morning in the city of Los Mochis.
“Mission Accomplished,” the President wrote. “We have him.”
The drug lord’s apprehension came one day before his interview with Penn was published on Rolling Stone’s website. It was unclear whether his communication with the actor contributed to his capture, although Mexican authorities cited the monitoring of his electronic exchanges as helpful to the process.
Guzmán was returned to the same prison from which he escaped the previous summer. He was later moved to a facility near the U.S border in Juarez, Mexico. In October 2016, Vicente Bermudez Zacarias, the judge presiding over Guzmán’s case, was murdered near his home.
In January 2017, the Mexican government extradited Guzmán to the United States to face drug trafficking and other charges. The following day Guzmán appeared in U.S. Federal Court in Brooklyn, New York, and pleaded not guilty to over a dozen charges.
In May 2018, one of Guzmán’s lawyers, A. Eduardo Balarezo, asked Judge Brian M. Cogan to move the trial from Brooklyn to the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan, which is directly connected to the high-security facility where the defendant was being held. The request was denied.
Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Fast Facts
Here’s a look at the life of Joaquín Guzmán, otherwise known as “El Chapo,” a Mexican drug lord who has repeatedly broken out of prison. He was recaptured in January 2016 and later extradited to the United States to stand trial on federal charges where he was found guilty of all charges against him.
- Birth date: December 25, 1954 or April 4, 1957 (Officials have released conflicting birth dates)
- Birth place: La Tuna, Badiraguato, Sinaloa, Mexico
- Birth name: Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera
- Father: Emilio Guzmán Bustillos, subsistence farmer
- Mother: María Consuelo Loera Pérez
- Marriages: Believed to have been married at least three times, the most recent being Emma Coronel Aispuro (2007-present)
- Children: Is purported to have fathered between 12 and 13 children
The nickname, “El Chapo,” means “Shorty.” Guzmán stands 5’6″ tall. Leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, which the US Justice Department describes as “one of the world’s most prolific, violent and powerful drug cartels,” moving billions upon billions of dollars in marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. Was able to continue running the Sinaloa Cartel in prison through bribes. The Sinaloa Cartel controls roughly 40% to 60% of Mexico’s drug trade, with earnings at around $3 billion annually. Claimed in 2014 that he has killed 2,000-3,000 people. Is said to be semi-illiterate, receiving no formal education beyond third grade.
Is known for using intricate tunnel systems for both evading authorities and moving the massive quantities of drugs that made the Sinaloa Cartel so powerful. His cartel has produced, smuggled and distributed marijuana, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and other types of drugs. Has appeared on both Forbes’ World’s Billionaires List and Most Powerful People List. According to the US Treasury Department, he is the most “powerful drug trafficker in the world.” Guzmán is perceived by some as a hero, with many narcocorridos, “drug ballads,” that glorify kingpins, written in his honor. There have been charges brought against Guzmán in 10 legal cases in Mexico, as well as federal charges in Arizona, California, Texas, Illinois, New York, Florida and New Hampshire.
- 1960s – Begins planting marijuana with his cousins.
- 1970s – Begins running drugs to major Mexican cities and the US border and working with major drug traffickers such as Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, leader of the Guadalajara Cartel.
- 1980s – Member of the Guadalajara Cartel. After the arrest of Felix Gallardo, the cartel splits into factions. Guzmán becomes leader of the Sinaloa Cartel Pacific coast faction.
- February 1992 – Police find the bodies of six of Guzmán’s top lieutenants dumped along Tijuana highways; the six men had been tortured and shot.
- November 1992 – Six people are gunned down at a discotheque in Puerto Vallarta by gunmen working for Guzmán, whose targets are traffickers in the Tijuana Cartel.
- May 1993 – Gunmen with the Tijuana Cartel attempt to assassinate Guzmán in retribution, firing upon a vehicle at an airport. Guzmán escapes unharmed, but Cardinal Archbishop of Guadalajara Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampa is killed accidentally, along with six others.
- June 9, 1993 – Wanted on charges of drug trafficking, murder and kidnapping, he is arrested in Guatemala and extradited to Mexico. Guzmán is subsequently sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in a maximum security prison.
- Early 2000s – Violence across Mexico escalates as El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel attempts to encroach upon Tijuana and Gulf Cartel territory.
- January 19, 2001 – Escapes the maximum-security Puente Grande prison in Jalisco, Mexico, in a laundry cart. The planned escape requires bribes and cooperation allegedly costing him $2.5 million, according to Malcolm Beith’s book, “The Last Narco.”
- 2004 – The US government announces a $5 million reward for information leading to Guzmán’s arrest and conviction.
- May 2008 – Guzmán’s son, Edgar, is murdered in a parking lot shootout near Culican, Mexico.
- 2009 – First appears on Forbes’ billionaires list.
- 2009 – Guzmán and other cartel leaders are indicted on charges of conspiring to import more than 264,000 pounds of cocaine into the United States between 1990 and 2005.
- August 2011 – Guzmán’s wife, Emma, who has dual US-Mexican citizenship, gives birth to twin girls in a hospital outside of Los Angeles.
- 2012 – The US Treasury Department uses the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act to freeze the US assets of his relatives.
- February 22, 2014 – Guzmán is apprehended at a beach resort in Mazatlán, Mexico.
- July 11, 2015 – Escapes the maximum-security Altiplano Federal Prison near Toluca, Mexico, by crawling through an opening in the shower area of his cell block leading to a nearly mile-long tunnel.
- October 2015 – While on the run, he meets with movie star Sean Penn and Mexican actress Kate del Castillo. Penn’s interview with Guzmán subsequently runs in Rolling Stone magazine. “I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world,” Guzmán is quoted in the interview. “I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats.”
- January 8, 2016 – Guzmán is recaptured by Mexican authorities in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, after a raid leads to a shootout in which five people connected to Guzmán are killed.
- May 9, 2016 – A judge in Mexico approves the United States’ request to extradite Guzmán, who faces charges in seven states. Once extradited, he will be sent to Brooklyn, New York, to stand trial on federal charges.
- January 19, 2017 – Mexico’s Foreign Ministry turns Guzmán over to US authorities.
- January 20, 2017 – Enters a plea of not guilty at his arraignment in US District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
- November 13, 2018 – Guzmán’s long-awaited criminal trial begins in a New York federal district court amid unprecedented security measures, including armed escorts for the anonymous and partly sequestered jurors, as well as heavily armed federal marshals and officers with bomb-sniffing dogs standing guard outside the courthouse.
- January 15, 2019 – Guzmán once paid a $100 million bribe to former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, according to testimony given by a former close personal aide to Guzman during his trial. Peña Nieto’s former chief of staff denies the allegation.
- February 12, 2019 – Guzmán is convicted of 10 counts, including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to launder narcotics proceeds, international distribution of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and other drugs, and use of firearms. He faces a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for leading a continuing criminal enterprise, and a sentence of up to life imprisonment on the remaining drug counts. His attorneys say they plan to file an appeal on a number of issues.
El Chapo’s Trial
The trial began amid heavy security in Brooklyn’s Federal District Court on November 13, 2018. His lawyer immediately raised eyebrows with the claim that the actual leader of the Sinaloa Cartel was a man named Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who had paid “the entire government” to look the other way.
In January 2019, the defense team produced a witness who testified that former President Peña Nieto had accepted a bribe from El Chapo. Another witness testified that the drug lord’s wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, was heavily involved in planning his 2015 escape from prison.
On February 12, 2019, following more than 200 hours of testimony from 56 witnesses, El Chapo was found guilty on all 10 counts against him, including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to launder narcotics proceeds and use of firearms.
- Joaquín Guzmán Loera, aka El Chapo Biography and Profile (Biography / CNN)