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ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, MARCH 2 - FILE - In this Feb. 22, 2014, file photo, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, in handcuffs, is escorted to a helicopter by Mexican navy marines in Mexico City, Mexico. At least seven U.S. courts have indictments pending against him, and several are pressing for extradition. In Mexico, he faces organized-crime charges in four Mexican states and in Mexico City. He could, barring another escape, spend the rest of his life behind bars. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, File)
Sinaloa cartel uses street gangs as U.S. franchises
Drug trafficking » “El Chapo” Guzman did his homework on successful business developing.
First Published Feb 28 2014 09:56 pm • Last Updated Mar 01 2014 08:21 pm

Washington » Likely facing a long prison stretch, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman could consider writing one of those how-to-succeed-in-business books, the kind churned out by legendary American CEOs Lee Iacocca and Jack Welch.

If he did, he could invoke many of the business world’s favorite tactics, including logistical networking, expanding markets overseas and, most of all, outsourcing.

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After all, it’s no accident that Guzman took an organization rooted in the rich poppy- and marijuana-growing lands of the Mexican state of Sinaloa and turned it into a worldwide enterprise. The illegal business brought in billions and earned him No. 67 on Forbes’ "most powerful" list, one behind House Speaker John Boehner.

What’s the secret of Sinaloa’s success? The chapters might go along these lines:

Franchising os efficient, cost effective » While other cartels often depended on their own operatives to market drugs, Sinaloa pioneered business alliances with regional and local criminal gangs, said a senior Drug Enforcement Administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Other cartels’ use of their own operatives from Mexico "initially was a great thing for U.S. law enforcement because they were easy to identify," the DEA official said. Local street gang members and affiliates are not as easily tracked.

In California, a 2011 FBI report said the Sinaloa Cartel built alliances with gangs such as the Mexican Mafia, Surenos and Border Brothers, which has roots in Oakland.

In Los Angeles, Sinaloa-connected gang members have been involved in kidnappings, drug sales and collecting drug proceeds, the report said.

Operation Xcellerator, a 2008-2009 U.S. Department of Justice roundup of Sinaloa’s U.S. foot soldiers, netted 150 in Los Angeles, 11 from Stockton, one from Tracy and one from Oakland.

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For Guzman and his hierarchy, the upside is huge and the downside minimal.

"A lot of times (locals) have no idea who they’re actually working for," said Sylvia Longmire, a former intelligence contractor for the California Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and author of "Cartels: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars."

"The beauty of outsourcing to networks of gang members is they have little valuable intelligence to give police if they’re arrested," Longmire said. "The cartel doesn’t lose much besides the drug load, which is the cost of doing business."

In addition, the Sinaloa Cartel has used boats to transport drugs to California and to Vancouver, where the Hells Angels act as their on-the-ground interlocutors in Canada.

Location, location, location » Nestled between the Pacific and the Sierra Madre, Sinaloa got its boost as a drug-growing region during World War II when the U.S. needed a ready supply of opium poppies to turn into morphine for wounded troops.

Guzman’s uncle, Pedro Aviles Perez, started the cartel in the 1960s — the first to use aircraft for transporting marijuana. Sinaloa’s location in northwest Mexico near the border of California proved to be the cartel’s main logistical asset.

The Sinaloa-Los Angeles route "provides easy access" to U.S. markets, said Jeronimo Cortina, a political scientist at the University of Houston who studies Mexico.

So it is no wonder that at the time of his arrest by Mexican marines in Mazatlan on Feb. 22, Guzman was under indictment in San Diego, New York, Chicago, Miami, El Paso and elsewhere in the United States.

Searching out new markets »Mexican cartels started handling huge quantities of Colombian cocaine in the 1980s after U.S. law enforcement blocked the traditional Colombian smuggling route through the Caribbean and South Florida. But the American appetite for cocaine has been on the wane in recent years.

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