"El Chapo" has been building tunnels for three decades: U.S.

In the last 25 years the U.S. Border Patrol has detected some 170 tunnels, most belonging to the Sinaloa Cartel, especially in Arizona and California.
It is not clear why engineering works near a military base and the most secure prison in the country went unnoticed. (Photo: Jorge Alvarado / EL UNIVERSAL)
19/07/2015
10:59
Froylán Enciso and José Luis Pardo
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A quarter of a century before Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán escaped from the maximum security prison of El Altiplano through a tunnel, the most wanted drug lord in the world already had underground activities.

"Architect Corona built a kick-ass tunnel for me," said Guzmán in 1987 at a meeting in one of his residences, according to a Justice Department prosecution to which EL UNIVERSAL had access.

The main witness of the document, named Martínez, said that Jesús Corona Verbera, "the architect" was so close to "El Chapo" that he was the only one that addressed him in the informal you form (tú) instead of usted. Their relationship started when Corona began designing hydraulic systems to conceal drug shipments, and suffered a setback in May 1990, when the architect became a fugitive from U.S. justice.

A group of agents monitored a shipment of nearly a ton of cocaine and discovered that a trailer wash business in Douglas, Arizona, was actually a safe house for the shipments of El Chapo. The tunnel built under the business connected to another safe house in Agua Prieta, Sonora in the name of Francisco Camarena Macias, that the witness said was Guzmán's lawyer.

When two laborers asked Corona why a trailer wash business had no water or plumbing, the architect replied that "it was none of their business". Corona was arrested in Jalisco in 2003 and extradited to the United States. A federal court sentenced him to 18 years in prison.

This tunnel, built in the early 90s, was well lit, about 60 meters long, and contained a cart similar car to those used in mines, a ladder, a pulley system, a lift, a ventilation system and a pipe to drain water, some of the features found in the 1.5 km. tunnel through which authorities say El Chapo esaped from El Altiplano prison.

The tunnel ended in a house sold by Calixto Estrada Castillo for 1.5 million pesos (US$92,164) between April and May, few months after the arrest of the Sinaloa Cartel boss. The owner, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing so far, was paid in cash.

However, it is not clear why engineering works near a military base and the most secure prison in the country went unnoticed. Furthermore, according to the Associated Press the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was aware of El Chapo's escape plans almost from the time of his arrest.

According to a U.S. indictment dated November 1994, once in prison El Chapo left the leadership of the cartel to his brother Arturo Guzmán, better known as "El Pollo".

The document notes that El Chapo and his organization had the ability to traffic drugs in his own airline (Aerobastos), as well as hundreds of kilos of cocaine in trailers, a fake business of Mexican products in California, Chicago and New Jersey and the ability to bribe an officer of the Mexican Judicial Police with up to one million dollars.

In the last 25 years the U.S. Border Patrol has detected some 170 tunnels, most belonging to the Sinaloa Cartel, especially in Arizona and California.

 

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