Mexico’s most notorious drug kingpin, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who gained fame for his daring prison escapes and an interview with Hollywood stars while a fugitive, has been extradited to the United States to face trafficking and other charges, authorities from both countries said.
A plane carrying Guzman landed Thursday night at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip, N.Y., according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The long-awaited extradition of the leader of the powerful Sinaloa cartel came on President Obama’s last full day in office and the eve of President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.
The timing, after months of unsuccessful appeals by Guzman’s legal team to block the move, caused considerable speculation on social media and elsewhere.
“They decided not to give Trump an early victory with the extradition of El Chapo,” Alejandro Hope, a security analyst, said on Twitter.
One of Guzman’s lawyers, Jose Refugio Rodriguez, told Mexican radio that he had an appointment to meet his client at a prison in the border city of Juarez at 1 p.m. but never got to speak with him.
“They had me waiting two hours and hearing helicopters, and they told me there was a ‘Code Black,’” Rodriguez said. “I thought it was a change of prison and not the extradition.”
Many analysts had concluded that Guzman’s extradition was inevitable but that various legal appeals would drag the process well into 2017. Last year, Mexican authorities predicted that the extradition would probably take place in February of this year.
Mexico’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the extradition after various news reports that Guzman had been moved from his prison in Juarez to the international airport there.
The Associated Press, citing a senior U.S. official, said that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration took custody of Guzman in Juarez, which is across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, and that a plane carrying him departed for New York at 5:31 p.m. EST.
The Justice Department said he was flown to Long Island because of a legal reason.
Guzman faces six separate indictments throughout the United States — for drug trafficking, murder, money laundering and other charges — but the one filed in the Eastern District of New York contains a provision that he must enter the United States in that district.
U.S. authorities gave no word on whether he would remain in New York, though Brooklyn has long been seen as his likely destination.
Federal prosecutors there last year revised an indictment to drop charges that would make the accused drug lord subject to the death penalty, which had been a sticking point in negotiations between the U.S. and Mexico.
In extraditing the convicted kingpin to the United States, Mexico has washed its hands of its most high-profile inmate, a folk hero to some and a headache for government officials.
In 2001, he broke out from another high-security Mexican prison by hiding in a load of laundry, most likely with help from bribed prison staff.
He remained on the lam for 13 years and during that time helped turn the Sinaloa cartel into one of the world’s most powerful drug trafficking organizations. The syndicate moved massive amounts of Colombian cocaine through Mexico to the United States.
One of the world’s most-wanted fugitives, he was recaptured in Mexico in February 2014.
Then in July 2015, Guzman broke out of the maximum-security Altiplano prison near Mexico City through an underground tunnel. He was captured last January in the western coastal city of Los Mochis, but not before he had granted a secret interview to actors Sean Penn and Kate del Castillo.
Guzman remained under heavy guard in Mexican custody until his extradition Thursday.
Last year, a Mexican judge granted approval to extradition petitions from U.S. federal prosecutors in San Diego and southern Texas.
In California, Guzman faces charges of conspiracy to import and possess cocaine for the purpose of distribution. In Texas, he faces various charges including criminal conspiracy, crimes against public health, organized crime, firearms violations, murder and money laundering.
Guzman’s attorneys filed unsuccessful appeals to keep him from being tried in the U.S., a country with a much stronger justice system than Mexico.
Still, Guzman may welcome the conditions of a new prison system. Over the last year, the inmate complained that he was subjected to “psychological torture” at the Federal Social Re-Adaptation Center No. 9, the maximum-security prison in Juarez.
“Everything has become hell,” Guzman told a doctor in a report made public last year. Guzman, whose cartel is responsible for countless deaths and other brutalities, said the psychological conditions in the prison were worse than any physical violence.
“They have not beaten me, but I would prefer that,” he said, describing a prison cell where the lights were kept on 24 hours a day and his only human contact was with masked guards.
“They do not let me sleep,” Guzman said.
National Security Commissioner Renato Sales Heredia disputed that in an interview with a radio journalist last year.
“The truth is he has not been subjected to torture, of course, or any degrading or inhuman treatment,” he said.
McDonnell and Linthicum reported from Mexico City and Wilber from Washington. Cecilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mexico City bureau and Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson in Washington contributed to this report.
7:42 p.m.: This article was updated with information about Guzman’s arrival in New York.
6:12 p.m.: This article was updated with information about a Guzman lawyer and additional background.
4:40 p.m.: This article has been updated with background information and political analysis.
3:55 p.m.: This article has been updated with staff reporting.
It was first published at 2:58 p.m.