With El Chapo in jail, DEA and Mexico focus on other cartels with Chicago ties


Now that Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera is in jail, federal authorities say they’re working with their Mexican counterparts to target other cartel leaders supplying drugs to Chicago — including an ultra-violent kingpin nicknamed “El Mencho.”

El Chapo is awaiting trial in New York on charges he ran a murderous, multibillion-dollar drug enterprise. He controlled an estimated 80 percent of Chicago’s drug trade. Since his capture in Mexico in 2016, though, Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes and his Jalisco New Generation cartel have commandeered much of El Chapo’s business here, and other cartels have stepped up, too, authorities say.

High-level officials in the Drug Enforcement Administration met this week in Chicago with top military and law-enforcement authorities from Mexico to redouble their efforts to capture the leaders of those cartels and extradite them to the United States for prosecution.

A new DEA enforcement group based in Chicago will conduct international investigations of cartel leaders who control the drug trade here, Brian McKnight, the special agent in charge of the DEA in Chicago, said Wednesday. He noted that DEA’s seizures of heroin and fentanyl in Chicago have increased to near-record numbers this year.

One of the priorities of Mexico and the United States is to capture El Mencho, said Felipe de Jesus Munoz Vazquez, a deputy attorney general of Mexico, during a news conference at DEA headquarters in Chicago.

Felipe de Jesus Munoz Vasquez, a deputy attorney general in Mexico, at a news conference Wednesday in Chicago to discuss targeting  the drug cartels that operate here. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

El Mencho not only supplies the open-air drug markets that fuel violence in Chicago, but he’s also suspected in killings of Mexican authorities cracking down on his cartel, officials say.

El Mencho, believed to be in his early 50s, already is one of the DEA’s three most-wanted fugitives. The others: Ismael Zambada Garcia, the co-leader of the Sinaloa Cartel with El Chapo, and Rafael Caro-Quintero, who authorities say participated in the murder of a DEA agent, Kiki Camarena, in Mexico in 1985.

The U.S. government has posted a $5 million reward for El Mencho’s arrest.

El Mencho’s Jalisco New Generation was among at least five cartels that jumped in to try to fill the vacuum left when El Chapo was captured in Mexico in early 2016, the Chicago Sun-Times reported in April.

The others were Los Zetas, Los Rojos, Colima and Guerreros Unidos, which was founded by two Chicago-area men with family ties to Mexico — Marco Vega Cuevas and Pablo Vega Cuevas.

Jalisco New Generation, which El Mencho is said to have created in 2010, is perhaps the most brutal of those cartels — behind much of the 27 percent increase in murders in Mexico from 2016 to 2017, according to Mexican authorities.

Unlike El Chapo, El Mencho is relatively unknown to the American public. In a story last year, Rolling Stone quoted a former DEA agent as saying, “In Mexico, you’d run into guys who had met Chapo. But not Mencho. He’s kind of a ghost.”

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, as he was being extradited to the United States in January 2017. | Getty Images

El Mencho was allied with the Sinaloa Cartel until 2010, when his Sinaloa patron Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel Villareal was killed in a shootout with the Mexican Army. El Mencho is said to have helped provide muscle for the Sinaloa Cartel against Los Zetas.

The Jalisco New Generation cartel then became a rival of the Sinaloa Cartel, authorities say.

As head of Jalisco New Generation, El Mencho is suspected of ordering mass killings, whose depravity surpassed even some of the atrocities linked to El Chapo over the years.

El Mencho has been linked to 35 bound bodies dumped onto the streets of Veracruz in 2011. And Mexican authorities say his cartel killed 15 federal police officers in an ambush in 2015, the same year it was accused of shooting down a military helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade, killing eight soldiers and a police officer.

The cartel launched a terror campaign against the Mexican government, which mobilized thousands of troops to respond to the violence.

On Wednesday, Matthew Donahue, the DEA’s regional director in Mexico and Central America, acknowledged the losses the Mexican military and police have suffered at the hands of Jalisco New Generation.

He noted that law-enforcement officials achieved a victory over the cartel in July when a leader, Jesus Contreras Arceo, was captured in Mexico. He faces charges in California.

El Mencho, meanwhile, is believed to be hiding out in the mountains of Mexico, as El Chapo had done for years.

In March, McKnight, who had just taken charge of the DEA’s office in Chicago, told ABC7 Chicago that El Mencho “is a person who we would consider is public enemy No. 1,” adding, “He’s the next Chapo Guzman.”

On Wednesday, he didn’t go that far. Asked whether El Mencho is DEA’s highest-value cartel target, McKnight responded: “I would say there are multiple high-value targets.”