El Chapo’s Son Might Not Face US Justice for Years, If Ever

The U.S. wants Ovidio Guzmán-López, but sources say his extradition will likely be painfully slow and plagued by corruption.

Like father, like son — it’s true in many ways for imprisoned Sinaloa Cartel leader El Chapo and his son Ovidio Guzmán-López, who now faces extradition to the United States after his recent capture by the Mexican military in a chaotic operation.

But while it took less than a year for Mexico to ship the 65-year-old El Chapo (real name: Joaquín Guzmán-Loera) off to the U.S. in January 2017, just a year after Mexican soldiers tracked him down for the final time, the extradition process will likely be different for Ovidio. 


Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard has said Ovidio, 32, alleged co-leader of a cartel faction known as Los Chapitos, will need to resolve charges in his native country prior to extradition, and on Friday a Mexican federal judge officially suspended the process.

The wait now could vary from several months to years—or even never—according to lawyers and former U.S. law enforcement officials who’ve been involved in extraditions from Mexico. They described the process as plagued by corruption and painfully slow, especially in cases involving narco suspects with useful information to share with gringo investigators.

El Chapo ultimately stood trial in Brooklyn and was convicted in Feb. 2019 for his leadership role in the Sinaloa Cartel, and he’s now serving a life sentence at a maximum-security prison in Colorado. Ovidio is also currently in a high-security prison, Mexico’s Altiplano, where his father made an infamous escape in 2015 using a tunnel, a motorcycle, and a GPS-enabled watch.


Ovidio, known as El Bebé or the Baby, as well as the El Ratón or The Mouse, is accused of being a prolific trafficker of fentanyl and other drugs, operating alongside his brothers Iván Archivaldo and Jesus Alfredo in the family business. Ovidio faces a federal indictment in Washington, D.C., for a drug trafficking case led by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which sources say provided intelligence in support of the Jan. 5 capture operation carried out by Mexico’s National Guard and army.

The arrest, which Mexican officials said was months in the making, wreaked havoc in Sinaloa and its capital city Culiacán, leaving at least 19 suspected cartel gunmen and 10 Mexican soldiers dead. Heavily-armed cartel sicarios torched vehicles to block roadways and shut down the airports. Similar tactics had worked to free Ovidio once before, when heavy fighting followed his capture in Culiacán in October 2019 and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador intervened to order his release and stop the chaos.

This time, despite coming under fire at the Culiacán airport—with a passenger jet caught in the crossfire on the tarmac—Mexican security forces managed to load Ovidio onto a military transport plane and fly him to Mexico City. Sinaloa remained under a state of siege in the immediate aftermath of the mayhem, with a heavy military presence and the charred remains of burned out vehicles littering the streets of Culiacán.


The capture came on the eve of a visit to Mexico by President Joe Biden, fueling speculation that the timing was not coincidental. Multiple law enforcement sources said U.S. agencies had possessed intelligence on Ovidio’s location for quite some time.

“We have known where Ovidio lives for months,” one person familiar with the operation said. The action by Mexico, the source added, came down to “timing and politics.”

The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment on Ovidio’s capture, and the agency has said previously it “generally does not confirm, deny, or otherwise comment on the existence or non-existence” of extradition requests from Mexico. 

One former senior U.S. anti-narcotics official, who requested anonymity because they are still involved in work in Latin America, told VICE News that Ovidio’s arrest felt like a token gesture from a Mexican government facing pressure to disrupt cartel fentanyl production amid soaring rates of overdose deaths. While Mexico has taken some action, it’s fallen short of U.S. expectations.

“They can say, ‘Look, we’re picking up this guy who is responsible for fentanyl production, see we’re doing great things,’” the ex-official said. “But they’re not taking out any of the labs, they’re not doing anything else.”

As for Ovidio’s potential extradition, the former official pointed to other major cartel figures who have sat in Mexican custody despite being sought for U.S. prosecution and debriefing, including ex-leaders of the bloody Los Zetas cartel; a former Juarez Cartel kingpin known as The Viceroy; and Rafael Caro Quintero, wanted since 1985 for allegedly murdering a DEA agent in Mexico.


“We’re never going to get these guys they don't want us to have,” said the ex-official. “The ones who know about corruption and made payoffs, they’re never going to give them up.”

Extraditions have been contentious in recent years, with Ebrard grumbling ahead of a 2021 visit by Biden cabinet officials that the process “should have the same speed from there to here as from here to there, something that is not the case right now.” The comment left many on the U.S. side perplexed, as Mexico is known for consistently dragging its feet on extraditions, especially compared to Colombia and other countries in Latin America.

Ebrard’s comment hinted at Mexico’s desire to see some high-profile cartel figures returned south across the border. These include the son of Sinaloa Cartel boss Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, and another cartel scion known as “Mini Lic,” the son of El Chapo’s former right-hand man and the suspected mastermind in the killing of a Mexican journalist. Both Mini Lic and El Mayo’s son cooperated with U.S. investigators and struck plea deals, receiving relatively short prison sentences. Both were scheduled to walk free in 2022, but have since disappeared into protective custody in the U.S. instead of being sent home, where they could face both government prosecution and persecution by their former cartel associates.


Extraditions still continue between the U.S. and Mexico, though few drug traffickers with international name recognition were exchanged in 2022. There were reportedly 54 extraditions from Mexico to the U.S. as of last November, with the most notable figure being a former Gulf Cartel leader known as “M1” or “El Gordo,” who was captured more than a decade ago.

In the case of El Chapo’s extradition, Mexico was seeking to avoid another escape and his transfer was a swift one-year process was unusual and later challenged by his defense team as improper, though both his trial judge and an appeals court have dismissed the claims. That extradition also had political timing, coinciding with the end of the Obama era.

David Weinstein, a former U.S. federal narcotics prosecutor in Miami who now works in criminal defense, said in his experience extradition from Mexico “seems to take twice as long as everywhere else.” 

We have known where Ovidio lives for months

One reason that Weinstein and others cited is that Mexico requests a detailed package of evidence in order to proceed with the extradition, and that information risks being leaked to cartels and the corrupt officials who protect them, putting the lives of confidential sources at risk.


“You have to be careful about what you say and how you say it,” Weinstein said. “But somebody with enough knowledge can sometimes read it and go ‘Ah-ha! If that person did this thing on this day, we can narrow it down.’” 

Another defense attorney who has represented cartel members in the U.S. described a case where his client was stuck in Mexico for several years, even after waiving his extradition rights and requesting to be sent north as quickly as possible. The lawyer, who did not want to be named because the case remains pending, said it’s a stalling tactic so that information about corruption goes stale.

“The process is a nightmare where none of the intelligence and information involving the politicians will ever get out or be used,” the lawyer said. “By the time the defendants get here and spill their guts out, it can’t be used because the statute of limitations has run out.”

With Ovidio now sitting in a cell in the Altiplano prison, the lawyer said half-jokingly, he might have enough time before his extradition to follow in his father’s footsteps with an escape.

“It could take 10 years for him to resolve his case in Mexico,” the lawyer said, “and in that time they can build him a tunnel.”