The two Mexican couriers were hauling a tractor-trailer full of cash: $3 million collected for drugs sold on the streets of Chicago. Juan Gonzalez and David Zuniga were driving their rig throughIndiana in October 2011, transporting the money to Mexico. As they stopped to fix a flat tire, three members of the Gangster Disciples, Chicago’s biggest street gang, held them up atgunpoint.
The gang had bought the drugs — and now these members wanted the money back. They pistol-whipped and handcuffed Zuniga. As the gangsters were hooking their own purple Kenworth cab to the money-laden trailer, Gonzalez fled through a cornfield and called the police.
After a 15-mile chase north along Interstate 65, lawmen intercepted the rogue truck, arrested the gang members and recovered the loot, Bloomberg Markets magazine will report in its October issue.
Gonzalez, who worked for Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman, made a surprising request that fall day: He wanted proof for cartel leaders that police had confiscated the $3 million.
“He knew, without a receipt, they’d kill him or his family in Mexico,” says Jack Riley, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for a five-state region that includes Illinois and Indiana.
Such is the fear that Guzman inspires on both sides of the border. Operating from heavily guarded compounds in the Sierra Madre of northern Mexico, Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel supplies 80 percent of the heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine — with a street value of $3 billion — that floods the Chicago region each year, the DEA says. Job seekers in Guzman’s 150,000-strong enterprise must list where their relatives live.
As far as the authorities can tell, 5-foot-6-inch (1.68-meter) Guzman, a grade school dropout known as El Chapo (or Shorty), has never set foot in Chicago.
Yet during the past seven years, Guzman, who’s now in his late 50s, has seized control of the supply and wholesale distribution of drugs in Chicago and much of the Midwest.
This steady flow of dangerous substances is sparking pitched and often deadly turf wars between Chicago’s splintered, largely African-American and Latino gangs.
“Most of Chicago’s violent crime comes from gangs trying to maintain control of drug-selling territories,” Riley says. “Guzman supplies a majority of the narcotics that fuel this violence.”