WASHINGTON -- Federal prosecutors across the United States are already jockeying over who will handle any case against Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, even though it's far from clear whether he will ever be brought to the U.S. to face charges.
Who in the U.S. gets to prosecute the longtime fugitive, apprehended over the weekend in Mexico and now charged with violating his country's drug trafficking laws, likely will turn on which office has the strongest case - and perhaps some politics.
"You want No. 1 to be the best shot that you have," said David Weinstein, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Florida in Miami who helped prosecute several high-profile suspected drug traffickers from Colombia and Haiti in his 11 years in the office. "What do they say? If you shoot at the king, you make sure you hit him in the head."
At least seven federal district courts
have indictments pending against Guzman on a variety of charges, and several
already are pressing for extradition. CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman told "CBS This
Morning" that extradition could take years.
CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds reports that even before his arrest at a Mexican beach resort, he had been dubbed "public enemy No. 1" in Chicago – a title last held by the gangster Al Capone.
Jack Riley, the special agent in charge at the DEA in Chicago, told Reynolds: "He made it clear to some of his subordinates he'd like to see my head lopped off. I still got my head."
He's wanted as well by federal prosecutors in New York City, and years-old indictments in San Diego and Texas charge Guzman with masterminding a mammoth cocaine trafficking operation.
The Justice Department hasn't said whether it plans to seek extradition, allowing only that it will be "the subject of further discussion between the United States and Mexico."
Guzman is imprisoned in Mexico, where a judge will soon decide whether to release him or start the process of bringing him to trial. His lawyers on Monday filed an appeal seeking to halt any attempt to extradite him, a common legal tactic used by drug suspects in Mexico.
Any extradition request and its timing
will be determined at the highest levels of the Justice Department, almost
certainly with input from the State Department, said Marcos Jimenez, a former
U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida whose cases have included
several high-ranking Colombian drug cartel figures who were brought to the
state for trial.
There's plenty of precedent for international defendants facing multiple U.S. indictments. Some defendants make appearances in multiple states.
Luis Hernando Gomez-Bustamante, a Colombian
drug cartel leader whose operation exported more than 500,000 kilograms of
cocaine, was detained by Cuban authorities in 2004, was extradited to the
United States and eventually pleaded guilty in both New York - where he was
indicted prior to his arrest - and Washington.
Since Guzman's arrest, federal prosecutors in New York City have said they want to try the case. Law enforcement authorities whose offices have worked the case the longest, have the strongest set of facts to win a conviction and have the resources to handle a massive criminal case would likely be in the best position, according to lawyers familiar with the process.
Chicago authorities, for instance, contend the city is a major hub for Guzman's Sinaloa drug cartel. Two high-up dealers are already cooperating with prosecutors, and an alleged Sinaloa lieutenant is awaiting trial there.
In San Diego, where Guzman is also
under indictment, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy has built a career on prosecuting
Mexico's Arellano Felix cartel. Benjamin Arellano Felix was sentenced to 25
years in federal prison in 2012, the highest profile among many who were extradited
from Mexico. Mexico waited nine years to extradite him following his arrest in
But Robert Feitel, a former prosecutor in the Justice Department's narcotics and dangerous drugs section, said he's skeptical that Guzman will ever be prosecuted in the United States. He said Mexico typically has insisted on affidavits professing first-hand knowledge of the criminal conduct of a defendant wanted for extradition, creating a heavy burden.
Though Mexican authorities would not have to worry about Guzman escaping from prison - he did that in Mexico in 2001 - if they sent him to the U.S, they would certainly be reluctant to turn over such a prominent figure in the country's drug war, Feitel said.
"He's a terrorist in their nation," he said. "Could you imagine if we were to send someone like him to Mexico if the situation was reversed?"
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