Rio Doce (3-17-13)
Miguel Angel Vega
Translated for Borderland Beat by un vato
Translator's note: From the terminology used in the Rio Doce article, I could not tell whether the writer was referring to a sealed indictment or a sealed arrest warrant. In either case, the result would be the suspect's apprehension, which is what the writer focuses on. --un vatoThe United States government had kept it sealed since 2011; they place him as second in command to Joaquin Guzman Loera, at the same level as Ines Coronel Barreras -- the capo's father in law -- and accuse him of trafficking drugs with a value of $280 million dollars from Peru, Colombia, Panama and Mexico...
Sixteen months after it was sealed and categorized as a "classified file", the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) declassified a complaint against Damaso Lopez Nunez and four of his collaborators, which is why the hunt for one of the principal lieutenants of Joaquin El Chapo Guzman officially started on March 8, (2013).
The declassification (unsealing) of File No. 11-CR-00558, captioned United States of America vs. Damaso Lopez Nunez, took place this past March 7, after Neil H. MacBride, Federal Prosecutor for the Eastern District of Virginia, filed a joint motion in a federal court in that state requesting the declassification of that document in order to proceed openly against Damaso Lopez.
"Since November 23, 2011, this document was sealed in the interest of the government, but now the circumstances that required that classification are no longer present, and for that reason we are requesting that the document be declassified," reads the motion, to which this journal had access.
The document does not specify the reasons the government of the United States had to keep the arrest warrant issued against Damaso Lopez Nunez sealed; it only states that this was "in the best interests of the country."
Jerry E. Norton, professor with Loyola University in Chicago, explained, however, that when the USDOJ seals files, this is pursuant to a strategy by the authorities to reinforce charges against each and every one of those implicated in the investigation.
"Of course, there may be very specific reasons, but generally, when a file is sealed it means that the prosecutors don't want the accused to know that they are looking for them, until they are located or they fall into the hands of the justice system. Because, if they knew, they would have a better chance of fleeing," Norton explained to Rio Doce.
Spokesmen for the DOJ stated they would not comment on the professor's opinion, nor did they say much about progress made in capturing Lopez Nunez, saying only that the file had been reopened.
The hunt begins
It happened with Benjamin Arellano Felix, with Arturo Beltran Leyva, with Vicente Zambada Niebla and, more recently, with Ovidio Limon. Dead or in prison, once the United States initiates the hunt for a drug trafficker, the pincers close.
Except for the top leaders of the narcos, Joaquin El Chapo Guzman, Ismael El Mayo Zambada and Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, El Azul, once they were tagged by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and sought by a federal court in that country, few have managed to escape.
The arrest warrant issued against Damaso Lopez, who is also known as El Licenciado, was originally requested on November 23, 2011, on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to introduce hundreds of tons of cocaine into the United States.
Despite this, immediately after filing the charges, the DEA promptly requested the judge to seal the file because this was "in the best interests of the United States." The petition was approved and the document was sealed.
So, nobody was aware that El Licenciado was also sought by the United States.
Notwithstanding, the Government of Mexico, who also was not aware of the arrest warrant, continued to look for him after the Office of Attorney General (PGR; Procuraduria General de la Republica) issued an order for his apprehension on February 2, 2011, on "organized crime" charges.
With the law following closely, Damaso requested a protective order (amparo) from a federal judge in Culiacan (Sinaloa). The amparo was granted on November 22, 2012, a year after the United States sealed the arrest warrant. The reasons why the protective order was issued are not known, since Damaso Lopez was at the time considered by the PGR to be one of the key members in the criminal organization led by Chapo Guzman, and the protective order document only stated that "Justice protects and shelters Damaso Lopez Nunez against the actions and authorities specified in the body of this order."
It was not even three months after that protective order issued, and while Damaso's file was still sealed, that the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) tagged Nunez for his continuing illegal activities, prohibiting U.S. residents from performing any transactions with him or with businesses owned by him.
In a new organizational chart disseminated by the U.S. DOJ, Damaso Lopez Nunez appears as second in command with Joaquin Guzman, at the same level as Ines Coronel Barreras, the father of Emma Coronel, one of the wives of the narco boss.
According to Damaso's file, which includes arrest warrants for Felipe Zurita Cruz, Jaime Alberto Lopez Gutierrez, Raul Rosales Saenz, and a fifth person identified only as El Gordo, it alleges that El Licenciado was importing cocaine into the U.S. from Peru, Colombia, Panama and Mexico since 2007.
According to the document, the defendants, led by Damaso, introduced cocaine worth at least $280 million dollars while they were all members of an organization led by Joaquin Guzman Loera.
The document is signed by MacBride and Daniel J. Grooms, with USDOJ, and by Arthur G. Wyatt and Darrin L. McCullough, representing the DEA.
The record also explains that, upon being brought before a judge, the prosecutors will request the forfeiture of properties, assets and money to compensate for the $280 million dollars that (the defendants) obtained.
"It is clear that Lopez Nunez has profited with money from the United States, which is why we are going after him with all we have, and going after his assets and after the organization he is part of, wherever he is," advised Adam J. Szubin, director of OFAC.
In January, 2011, one of the accused, Felipe Zurita Cruz, was detained by the Mexican Navy. The Mexican Navy stated that he was being tracked by marines pursuant to the order issued by the District Judge of Federal Criminal Procedures under Criminal Cause Number 206/2010-IV.
According to the Semar (Secretariat of the Navy), Zurita is directly involved in the cocaine seizures carried out by the Mexican Navy aboard the ships "Caracol III" and "Juan Alejandro" in September, 2008, and "Polar 1" in February, 2009.
As happens in these situations, if El Licenciado or the rest of the suspects who are part of the case are arrested in Mexico or anywhere else in the world, their extradition will be promptly carried out, and, once they are in a U.S. court, they face maximum penalties of up to life in prison.
Which is why Zurita may be extradited at any moment.
Brief profile of Damaso LopezThey called him Licenciado because he studied law in the University of the State of Sinaloa (UAS), and because he practiced law for some time.
Born February 22, 1966, in Eldorado, Culiacan township, Lopez Nunez was a Public Ministry agent in Sinaloa in the 1990's.
Towards the end of 1999, he began to work as chief of security in the Puente Grande prison.
According to the governments of Mexico and the U.S., a few months after he started there, he was promoted to deputy director of surveillance and custody in the prison as part of a well defined plan to help Joaquin Guzman escape from Puente Grande.
Lopez Nunez resigned two months before the escape, although by that time everything was ready for Guzman Loera's escape.
Once the escape took place, El Licenciado began to work in Chapo Guzman's organization, but not in the top ranks. It was after the arrest of El Chapo Lomas, in prison since 2008, that he became one of the capo's principal men.
He has a brother, Adolfo Lopez Nunez, identified in military intelligence reports as having ties to organized crime.
According to military intelligence reports, Adolfo worked as operations supervisor with the State Ministerial Police in El Salado township, Culiacan Municipality, and resigned May 1, 1996.
Their father, Damaso Lopez Garcia, was elected councilman in Eldorado in 2007.
In July, 2008, the Mexican Army searched and secured a 10.6 acre property in Portaceli that the government attributed to Damaso Lopez Nunez, which they learned of during a search of a house in Culiacan some days prior to that where they seized more than $5 million dollars.
In 2009, an investigation was opened, captioned UEIORPIFAM/AP/002//2009, where they document the seizure of two properties, one measuring 52 acres in Navito, Culiacan Municipality, and another measuring 53 acres in El Capullito, Rancho de Zopilotito, Eldorado, Culiacan Municipality, in addition to several vehicles.