The Sinaloa Cartel’s $5M Mystery Man

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A Sinaloa Cartel operator with a multi-million dollar reward on his head for trafficking hundreds of tons of cocaine into the U.S was captured last week. The size of the reward indicates he was big, but no one seems ready to say how big.

Ovidio Limon Sanchez, who was detained by soldiers in Culiacan, Sinaloa, was allegedly part of the inner circle of Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo,” head of the Sinaloa Cartel.

When announcing his capture, army spokesperson Ricardo Trevilla (see video below) described the suspect as one of the Sinaloa’s “principal operators” and said that his arrest would significantly affect the organization’s ability to distribute drugs.

Limon Sanchez was on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) list of most wanted narcotraffickers in Mexico, and the State Department Narcotics Reward Program offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.

Despite Limon Sanchez’s seeming notoriety in security circles, authorities are keeping a tight lid on who exactly he is. Trevilla, for instance, did not provide details on why the capture of this particular drug trafficker may be significant. In an email, DEA spokeswoman Dawn Dearden referred InSight Crime to his 2009 indictment in the Southern District of Los Angeles.

That indictment (download pdf here) says Limon Sanchez has handled distribution for the Sinaloa Cartel in the U.S. since at least 2006, and describes his involvement in micromanaging the distribution, even negotiating the transfer of 10 kilos, a relatively small amount in comparison with the tons of cocaine he is accused of smuggling into the country.

As an important manager of cocaine distribution in the Los Angeles area, it is likely that Limon Sanchez worked closely with Victor Emilio Cazares, who is a “chief channel officer” in charge of transport and distribution for the Sinaloa Cartel.

A 2007 operation by the DEA, which was named “Imperial Emperor” and described in detail by the L.A. Times in a four-part series, targeted Cazares’ drug distribution via the port of entry between Mexicali, in Mexico’s Baja California state, and Calexico, in California’s Imperial County. The operation resulted in the arrest of 400 people and the seizure of $45 million dollars worth of drugs and cash.

This long-term operation also revealed logistical details on a Sinaloa Cartel network that moved cocaine from Colombia via the Caleixco, California, port of entry and through Los Angeles, where it would then be distributed across the U.S. It is possible this DEA operation also netted intelligence or informants that helped Mexico’s army capture Limon Sanchez “without firing a shot.”

Strangely, Limon Sanchez did not appear on Mexico Attorney General’s list of most wanted fugitives, nor had he received significant press coverage prior to his arrest. A brief mention of the suspect, buried in an article (pdf available here) about Guzman’s counter-intelligence operations in the northern state of Coahuila may be the only time the name Ovidio Limon Sanchez appeared online independent of articles covering his “most wanted” status in the U.S.

Over the weekend, journalist Anabel Hernandez published new intelligence on the operation to capture Limon Sanchez and revealed that he may, in fact, be linked to Guzman by blood. According to anonymous intelligence sources, Ovidio Limon Sanchez is the son of Ovidio Sanchez, born Guzman Loera. He is the brother of the world’s most powerful drug trafficker, Joaquin Guzman Loera, which would mean that Ovidio Junior is Chapo’s nephew.

Hernandez has the contacts to back this allegation. She is the author of the best-selling book “Los Señores del Narco,” a detailed account of the Mexican underworld.

Mexican authorities have not addressed the alleged family ties, but a kinship between the two men could explain why the U.S. government put such a high price on Limon Sanchez’s head. According to Hernandez’s report, Ovidio Limon Sanchez (Junior) would have been in his 20s when his father — Guzman’s brother — died in a car accident over 15 years ago.

Limon Sanchez is now facing extradition to the U.S. After the press conference announcing his arrest, Limon Sanchez was handed over to civilian authorities in Mexico, who are likely to appeal his extradition. Whether his capture has true significance for Mexico’s battle against the cartels or for the Sinaloa organization, and Guzman in particular, remains to be seen.

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