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5:14 am
Tue February 25, 2014

Mexican Drug Lord's Reach Stretches To Chicago Streets

Originally published on Tue February 25, 2014 11:51 am

Drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman is one of the major villains in Chicago's heroin epidemic, and his recent arrest in Mexico is sparking a debate over how the city's drug trade will be affected.

Chicago is the heroin hub for the Midwest, with cartels often using stash houses in quiet, residential neighborhoods. Last fall, for example, Chicago police raided a cute, quaint two-story house on the southwest side of the city and allegedly seized about $10 million worth of heroin.

"I mean, they don't want to have a large police presence where there's a lot of shootings or gang activity where there's gonna be a heightened sense of police awareness — more cars stopped, more people gone after — so they gravitate to that quieter neighborhood and they like to hide within the regular hardworking citizens," says Chicago Police Chief Nick Roti, who heads the organized crime investigative unit.

The drugs stored in these stash houses will likely end up heading north to Milwaukee or east to Detroit or south to Indianapolis — or they might just stay in Chicago.

Chicago's West Side is home to a large number of the open-air drug markets. Kathie Kane-Willis heads the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University and lives just a few blocks a major open-air drug market in the West Side neighborhood of Humboldt Park.

"It's not like there's a sign that says 'Here's the open-air drug market' and you can just drive right up, but if you know what you're looking for and the people who are engaging in the open-air drug market are looking for customers, it's pretty easy to make that contact without any even verbal communication," Kane-Willis says.

It's drug corners like this where Guzman is said to have left the biggest scar. Authorities blame his cartel for a rise in turf battles and bloodshed.

Kane-Willis doesn't think Guzman's arrest will make much difference.

"I think that the infrastructure on the ground is still significantly in place and that Guzman was on the run for some time, and so I don't think that there's going to be any disruption in the supply," she says.

But that's not how former Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Cramer sees it.

"In the Chicago drug trade, his impact is immense. We see the violence in Chicago and the nexus of that invariably is drugs and his organization in Mexico is involved in all that," Cramer says. "So in some way, shape or form, a disproportionate amount of drugs that make its way to the streets of Chicago has touched his organization."

Up next for Guzman is what will likely be a lengthy extradition process. If he leaves Mexican soil, U.S. attorneys will likely be lining up in hopes of being the first to take him to court.

Copyright 2014 Chicago Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wbez.org.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And now in the city of Chicago, let's turn there. Heroin use has been a major problem, and authorities see drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman as a major villain in the city's heroin epidemic. As Patrick Smith of member station WBEZ reports, El Chapo's recent arrest is sparking a debate over how it will affect the drug trade in the city.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: I'm standing in front of a house near the corner of 63rd Place and Pulaski on the southwest side of Chicago. We're about a mile and a half from Midway Airport, and occasionally, you can hear airplanes fly overhead. But otherwise, this is a pretty quiet neighborhood, and authorities say that's exactly how the cartels like it. The house I'm standing in front of is a pretty cute, quaint, two-story building with a wooden porch and aluminum siding. It doesn't stand out in any way from the house to its left or its right, and it fits in with the neighborhood. But last fall, the Chicago police raided this house and allegedly seized about $10 million worth of heroin.

NICK ROTI: I mean, they don't want to have a large police presence where there's a lot of shootings or gang activity where there's going to be a heightened sense of police awareness, more cars stopped, more people gone after. So, they gravitate to that quieter neighborhood, and they like to hide within the regular, hardworking citizens.

SMITH: That's Chicago Police Chief Nick Roti, who heads the Organized Crime Investigative Unit. Chicago is a heroin hub for the Midwest, so the drugs stored in these stash houses will likely end up heading north to Milwaukee or east to Detroit or south to Indianapolis. Or they might just stay right here in the city. If you head about five miles north from 63rd, straight down Pulaski, you'll end up on Chicago's west side, home to a large number of open-air drug markets. Kathie Kane-Willis heads the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University, and lives just a few blocks from Central Park and Division, a major open-air drug market in the West Side neighborhood of Humboldt Park.

KATHIE KANE-WILLIS: It's not like there's a sign that says here's the open-air drug market, and you can just drive right up. But if you know what you're looking for and the people who are engaging in the open-air drug market are looking for customers, it's pretty easy to make that contact without any even verbal communication.

SMITH: It's drug corners like this where "El Chapo" Guzman is said to have left the biggest scar. Authorities blame his cartel for a rise in turf battles and bloodshed. Kathie Kane-Willis doesn't think Guzman's arrest will make much difference.

KANE-WILLIS: I think that the infrastructure on the ground is still significantly in place, and that Guzman was on the run for some time. And so I don't think that there's going to be any disruption in supply.

SMITH: But that's not how former Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Cramer sees it.

JEFF CRAMER: The Chicago drug trade and its impact as immense, and we see the violence that has occurred in Chicago. And the nexus of that, invariably, is drugs. And his organization in Mexico is involved in all that. So, in some way, shape or form, a disproportionate amount of drugs that make its way to the streets of Chicago has touched his organization.

SMITH: Up next for Guzman is what will likely be a lengthy extradition process. If he leaves Mexican soil, U.S. attorneys will likely be lining up to be the first one to take him to court. For NPR News, I'm Patrick Smith, in Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.