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Around 4 a.m. on February 17, 2014, DEA agents and Mexican marines launched an operation to capture Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. They had tracked El Chapo to a safe house in the city of Culiacán, and the raid began when the marines started hammering on his front door with a battering ram.
According to testimony this week at El Chapo’s trial by DEA agent Victor Vazquez, who was involved in the raid and shot video footage during the operation, the door was made of reinforced steel, and it took nearly 10 minutes to break it down. That gave El Chapo enough time to escape through a tunnel that was hidden underneath the bathtub off his master bedroom.
El Chapo was sleeping naked alongside his mistress, Lucero Sanchez, when the DEA and marines came calling. She told the stunning tale when she, too, testified at his trial this week, saying El Chapo was so taken by surprise that he didn’t even have time to get dressed. She said he was completely naked as he scrambled into the tunnel, which connected to the sewer network underneath the city.
Vazquez and the Mexican marines searched five of Chapo’s safe houses around Culiacán. All of them were connected by underground tunnels. Vazquez explained how plugging a piece of wire into an electrical outlet opened the bathtub in one. He could hear “a little crackling sound” as the sealant broke and the top of the tub popped open.
In one house, Vazquez and the marines found 2,800 packages of methamphetamine, hundreds of plastic bananas stuffed with cocaine, and a small arsenal of weapons, including a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Personal items found at the house left no doubt about the owner. They found Chapo’s personal handgun — a .38 Super with his initials JGL on the diamond-encrusted grip — as well as photos of his family.
El Chapo was captured less than a week after his escape through the bathtub tunnel. He escaped once more, but was ultimately extradited to stand trial in New York. If convicted, he faces life in U.S. federal prison.
Cover: A DEA agent with bags of meth at one of El Chapo's safe houses. Photo via the U.S. Attorney's Office.