The United States government has found itself in possession of one very bad hombre, Damaso Lopez Nuñez, a cartel drug lord, whom Mexico extradited from Cuidad Juarez in an ongoing effort to destroy the Sinaloa cartel.
Lopez, known as “el Licenciado”, or “the Graduate,” was second only to kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in command of the organization, and is charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine, money laundering, and may face life imprisonment if convicted.
But that’s not the only reason the U.S. is happy to have the likes of the Graduate in their grip. As Acting Attorney General Alberto Elias Beltran said, Lopez “is potentially a key witness,” who could seal the fate of his former boss, Guzman, and the cartel, if he testifies for the prosecution.
In a statement released by the Drug Enforcement Agency:
“Until his capture, Damaso Lopez Nuñez allegedly participated in a multi-year conspiracy to distribute large amounts of cocaine, intending that the drugs be imported to the United States. Lopez Nuñez’s arrest and extradition demonstrates the commitment of the United States and our partners in Mexico to the pursuit of drug traffickers who seek to flood our streets with addictive and deadly poisons, for their own illicit gain.”
The Sinaloa cartel is a multi-billion-dollar organization created by Pedro Avilés Pérez, the man who took simple drug running to new heights when he pioneered the use of aircraft to smuggle drugs across the border to United States. Before Federal agents shot and killed him in 1978, he had prepared his nephew, Guzman, to take the reins.
Guzman doubled down on his uncle’s accomplishments. In 1989, the cartel dug their first drug tunnel between a house in Agua Prieta, Sonora, to a warehouse located in Douglas, Arizona. Although uncovered within a year, this novel idea for trafficking stuck, and a system of tunnels was built. The U.S. government referred to the 1,500 foot underground passage from Otay Mesa, a southern suburb of San Diego, and Tijuana, the “Taj Majal” of drug running, as it sported electricity, ventilation, and train tracks to transport thousands of pounds at a time.
At one time, it appeared the cartel was unstoppable.
After months of deadly fighting for control of the cartel against Guzman’s sons, Lopez was apprehended in Mexico City and arrested. His son, Damaso Lopez Serrano, or “El Mini Lic,” voluntarily turned himself in at the Calexico West Port of Entry and has pled guilty to narcotics trafficking. Lopez Serrano is the highest-ranking cartel member to ever surrender, but three hots and a cot is preferable to a blanket of bullets on any given day, and he is said to be assisting in the case against El Chapo.
To date, 125 cartel members have been arrested, which has inspired the ongoing efforts of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF), “a partnership that brings together the combined expertise and unique abilities of federal, state, and local enforcement agencies.” They must be doing something right.
These successes are part of being tough on crime. Law enforcement officers of the FBI, DEA, and local agencies are on the front lines in attempting to stem the flow of cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl. What was once perceived as a never-ending, never-win battle, is now sparking a bit of hope with the take down of over one hundred of El Chapo’s familia. As a country, we should collectively beam with pride… and perhaps a little hope.