The Search for El Chapo’s Fortune

After the sentencing, American law enforcement explores asset forfeiture options

El Chapo
El Chapo, seen through the window of an airplane
DEA/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / July 21, 2019 3:25 pm

Last week in New York, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán received his sentence for federal crimes related to his role as head of the Sinaloa drug cartel: life in prison, plus 30 years. Now that he’s been sentenced, another task begins: collecting the money, in excess of $12 billion, that his cartel made from drug sales in the United States.

The Guardian’s report on the trial and sentencing notes one way in which the federal government may seek this money: via asset forfeiture. 

More interesting than the sentencing itself was a 12-page document on forfeiture submitted by prosecutors just ahead of it. The calculations are estimably meticulous: El Chapo’s products in the US, they say, were worth $12,666,181,704.

Law enforcement hasn’t gotten any more specific than this — which is understandable — though The Guardian’s report on the sentencing and its aftermath offers some insight via an interview with Duncan Levin, a former federal prosecutor and the former Chief of Asset Forfeiture for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

The short version? “If there are assets in the US, they can go right after those assets,” Levin said. Potentially complicating things is the likelihood that the majority of El Chapo’s wealth is in Mexico, necessitating cooperation between authorities in the United States and Mexico. The current political climate might add some complexity to this process. 

The process of bringing El Chapo to trial and securing a conviction has been a lengthy one. As this report points out, however, it’s far from the last thing we’ll hear about this case.

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