To help fight COVID-19, Mexico is going to give away the mansions of 2 once-powerful drug kingpins

el chapo guzman
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, center, arrives at an airport in Long Island during his extradition to the US, January 19, 2017.

  • Mexico’s president recently a “mega raffle” with 22 prizes valued at $12.5 million, the proceeds of which will be used for COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Among the goods being given away are mansions that belonged to two of Mexico’s most well known cartel bosses: Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and Amado Carrillo Fuentes.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Ciudad Juarez, MEXICO – The million-dollar houses of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, formerly boss of the Sinaloa Cartel, and Amado Carrillo Fuentes, deceased boss of the Juárez Cartel, will pay for COVID-19 vaccines for Mexicans.

Mexican government recently announced it will hold a “mega raffle” on September 15 with 22 prizes and a total value of $12.5 million, including the two former drug lords’ seized mansions.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the money raised from the lottery will go “back to the people.”

“All of the money raised is going to be delivered to the people and help to buy [COVID-19] vaccines and medicines and to give away some scholarships” he said at his daily morning press conference on May 27.

The houses failed to sell when previously raffled by the Institute to Return Stolen Goods to the People, or Indep, which Lopez Obrador created to redistribute seized assets.

Amado Carrillo Fuentes
Amado Carrillo Fuentes, far left, in a photo found in one of his houses after a raid.

Carrillo Fuentes’ former residence is located in the exclusive Mexico City residential neighborhood of Jardines del Pedregal and is valued at about $4 million, according to Indep.

The property, seized more than 20 years ago, is over 32,000 square feet and has an indoor pool, nine bedrooms, several Jacuzzis and saunas, a wine cellar, and a party salon. According to the listing, Fuentes’ house is fully furnished.

El Chapo’s property is located in Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa state on Mexico’s west coast and his cartel’s home turf. It was where Guzmán escaped arrest in February 2014 by using a secret tunnel under a bathtub. Public records don’t say if the tunnel is still there.

El Chapo’s house has two bedrooms, a living room, dining room, garage and a front garden, according to the public listing. Although more modest, it is valued at $200,000, a high price for Sinaloa’s real-estate market.

The lottery also includes a historic box at the Estadio Azteca, the iconic Mexico City stadium that holds over 87,500 people. The box has its own story: It is where then-President Miguel de la Madrid handed the World Cup trophy to Diego Maradona in 1986, crowning Argentina champion.

Estadio Azteca
Mexico’s Estadio Azteca.

According to the listing, the stadium box is “in an excellent location” and has a 20-person capacity, a bathroom, and four parking spaces. The box is valued at $1 million and would be held until 2065.

In 2019, Mexico offered six other homes seized from Guzmán. Only three sold, bringing in a total of $227,844. One of them, the steel-enforced safe house where Guzmán sheltered after his first prison escape in 2001, went for $107,530.

The government held a similar raffle in September 2020 in which the top prize was the presidential jet, but the $130 million Boeing 787 Dreamliner failed to sell.

Lopez Obrador decided to hold another lottery where 100 winners would get $1 million in cash, but that also failed when only 30% of the tickets were sold. There have been no more attempts to sell the plane.

Drug lords’ mansions

mexico marine drug cartel
A Mexican marine lifts a bathtub covering a tunnel in one of Guzmán’s homes in Culiacan. The tunnel leads to the city’s drainage system.

Guzmán was one of the most notorious and elusive of Mexico’s drug kingpins until his final arrest in Mexico in 2016. He was extradited in 2017 and convicted in a US federal court in 2019 on 10 charges, receiving a life sentence in a US federal “supermax” prison.

In 2009, Forbes magazine ranked Guzmán at number 701 on its annual list of billionaires, with an estimated net worth of $1 billion. (A woman believed to be Guzmán’s eldest daughter has a fashion line called “El Chapo 701,” referring to his ranking.)

Guzmán owned six houses in Culiacan alone. Most are middle-class properties, but they all have one thing in common: a hydraulic system installed under the bathtub to lift the tub and provide access to the municipal sewage tunnels he used to escape.

He also owned an apartment in Mazatlán, Sinaloa’s most famous tourist beach. The property is part of the Miramar apartment complex and is where he was last captured. The complex became a tourist attraction and remains Mexican government property.

El Chapo also built a picturesque luxury hacienda for his mother, Consuelo Loera, in the town of Badiraguato in the mountains of Sinaloa, where Guzmán was born. The hacienda has four rooms, a large kitchen, and a small chapel in the back.

Mexico Sinaloa Badiraguato Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador sign billboard
A billboard welcoming Lopez Obrador ahead of his visit to Badiraguato, February 15, 2019.

After a violent attack by a group believed to be Guzmán’s enemies in 2016, Consuelo Loera left the property, which remains abandoned.

Carrillo Fuentes – known as ‘El señor de los cielos,’ or “the lord of the skies,” for using planes to smuggle tons of drugs into the US – died 1997 during plastic surgery to change his appearance.

Many of Carrillo Fuentes’ properties have met the same fate that Guzmán’s now face. His more luxurious residences – among them a 2,000-square-foot apartment and a 6,000-acre ranch – were in Argentina, where he lived for a year in 1996.

In 2018, Argentina auctioned his three properties there, selling them for a total of $14 million.

He had several other properties in Mexico, including an arabesque-like mansion in Hermosillo, in the northern state of Sonora, and a luxurious mansion in southwestern Jalisco state; the latter was known as “Casa Versace” after the Italian brand established its first Mexican boutique in 1994.

Carrillo’s property in Sonora was recently demolished by the state government, while Casa Versace was bought by a private owner and turned into a reception hall.

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A new DEA map shows where cartels have influence in the US. Cartel operatives say ‘it’s bulls—‘

drugs mexico cartels
Mexican soldiers stand guard next to packages of marijuana at a military base in Tijuana, June 13, 2015.

  • The Drug Enforcement Administration’s latest report on illicit drugs and drug trafficking details what the agency says is cartel influence in the US.
  • Security experts and cartel operatives in Mexico dispute the DEA’s depiction, however, arguing the links are more tenuous than the DEA describes them.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Ciudad Juarez, MEXICO – The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently released its annual National Drug Threat Assessment, in which it maps out the states where Mexican drug cartels have gained “influence.”

Asked about that depiction of cartel presence in the US, security experts and cartel sources told Insider “it’s bullshit.”

The DEA’s report says Mexican transnational criminal organizations, or TCOs, “maintain great influence” in most US states, with the Sinaloa Cartel and Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion showing the “biggest signs of expansion.”

A map included in the report shows the Sinaloa Cartel, Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion, Cartel del Golfo, Organización de Beltran-Leyva, and Los Rojos as the most “influential” drug organizations with presence in Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Chicago, New York, Florida, Kansas, Colorado, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, among other states.

“Mexican TCOs continue to control lucrative smuggling corridors, primarily across the SWB [Southwest Border], and maintain the greatest drug trafficking influence in the United States,” the report says.

DEA map cartel influence in US
Major Mexican organized-crime groups’ areas of influence in the US, according to the DEA’s 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment.

But operatives for the Sinaloa Cartel and Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion interviewed by Insider said their criminal organizations maintain “only clients or helpers” across the border and “not members of our organization.”

“You would never see anyone in the US saying they are part of the organization [Sinaloa Cartel], because that is bulls—. The members and leaders of the organization are in Mexico, not in the US. What we have there are clients or associates, people helping transport, or gang members working with us,” a Sinaloa Cartel operative told Insider.

The operative explained that most of the gangs or “associates” in the US work as independents.

“We wholesale to them and what they do to that merchandise is their problem. We don’t give a f—. They can loose it, sell it, snort it, whatever, as long as they pay up,” he said.

One of the most prominent cases used to prove Mexican cartels’ presence in the US was that of Pedro and Margarito Flores, two brothers from Chicago accused of importing cocaine for the Sinaloa Cartel.

Pedro and Margarito Flores
Pedro Flores, left, and his twin brother, Margarito Flores, in undated photos from a wanted poster released by the US Marshals Service.

The Flores brothers admitted to smuggling at least 1,500 kgs of cocaine for the Sinaloa cartel into the US every month between 2005 and 2008. According to their guilty pleas, they also sent more than $930 million in “bulk cash” back to the cartel in Mexico.

US authorities allege the brothers were part of the Sinaloa Cartel, but a phone call of a negotiation with then-Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman that was made public during Guzman‘s trial in 2018 revealed Flores brothers bargaining over the price of a 20 kg shipment of heroin.

“Do you think we can work something out where you can deduct five pesos from those for me?” said a man identified as Pedro Flores.

“How much are you going to pay for it?” said the other man on the call, allegedly Guzman.

‘It just doesn’t make sense’

Philadelphia cocaine drug bust
A fraction of the cocaine seized from a ship at a Philadelphia port on display at the US Custom House in Philadelphia, June 21, 2019.

Alejandro Hope, a security analyst in Mexico and former official with CISEN, Mexico’s top security intelligence organization, said the DEA warns of Mexican drug cartels being active in the US in order “to keep asking for money.”

“It’s DEA’s bulls—. They have been doing this for years, and it just doesn’t make sense. Cartels today are not structured [like] a hierarchy organization, but more like a decentralized network,” Hope told Insider.

“The logic behind the DEA [report] is to argue there is an invasion of external forces so they can justify more budget and support from the US,” he said.

Neither DEA headquarters nor its offices in Texas and Arizona responded to requests for comment on the map.

The report describes the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion as “one of the fastest growing cartels” and says the organization “smuggles illicit drugs into the United States by accessing various trafficking corridors in northern Mexico along the SWB including Tijuana, Juarez and Nuevo Laredo.”

“The cartels dominate the drug trade influencing the United States market, with most cartels having a poly drug market approach that allows for maximum flexibility and resiliency of their operations,” the report states.

The report doesn’t describe how these organizations maintain their presence in the US.

“The DEA has a problem with semantics. What does influence actually mean? What does presence even mean? An associate is no other thing but a client,” Hope said.

US drug market mexican cartel control DEA map
The cartel areas of influence map from the 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment.

An operative for Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion said the organization maintained a large group of members in Mexico who are “mostly on the armed side of the operations,” while most contacts in the US were clients.

“Most of what we can call members of the Jalisco organization are on the arms [side], like sicarios, and some producers that are on a payroll, but everyone else is either a client we are selling to or an association to have access to certain route” for distribution in the US, he said.

Some intelligence officials believe Mexican cartels do have a real presence on US soil but function differently there.

“The substantial difference is that drug criminal enterprises are not displaying force at the border with the US because it is not needed. We should take into account that keeping a low profile is good for their activities and business, just as any other corporation,” said a high-level foreign intelligence official in Mexico who asked for anonymity.

The official said cartel associates in the US have something like membership, even if they aren’t part of the cartel structure, and “are using the brand” to prove their drugs’ quality.

“We need to consider that they act just as another transnational company, with their level of organization, distribution, reach, and territory control. They do have a presence in the US in how their drug has a brand backing up certain quality,” the official said.

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