The reputed personal assistant for drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera and a key link in the hunt for the kingpin has been extradited to San Diego to face marijuana trafficking charges.
Mario Hidalgo Arguello — known as “Nariz” or “Nose” — was brought to the United States a week ago Saturday, six years after his arrest in Mexico, according to newly unsealed court filings.
He is among a handful of high-ranking cartel targets who’ve been quietly extradited in the past month after waiting for years in Mexican custody. U.S. authorities have not publicly announced any of the extraditions. The Department of Justice on Friday declined to comment on what has prompted the sudden surge of long sought-after suspects.
Hidalgo was arrested in February 2014 at his home in Culiacan, Sinaloa — the stronghold of the powerful Sinaloa cartel.
“Mario Hidalgo Arguello is a subject who belongs to the top circle of the criminal organization,” the Mexican federal Attorney General’s Office said at the time.
The larger significance of his arrest later became clear.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Victor Vazquez, who was part of the manhunt for Guzman in Mexico, testified in Guzman’s blockbuster criminal trial in Brooklyn last January. He described how Mexican authorities zeroed in on Guzman’s inner circle, including the man known for his unusual nose. He did not actually name Hidalgo in his testimony, referring to him only as Nariz.
“We knew Nariz was an individual, a runner for Guzman Loera, a gopher, an individual that would go and retrieve things for Guzman Loera, an individual that knew all his houses, his cars, locations, where Guzman Loera spent his time in the city of Culiacan,” Vazquez testified. “He knew absolutely everything about Guzman Loera.”
Vazquez and a contingent of Mexican marines showed up at Nariz’s home late one night, eventually finding him hiding in his master bedroom, according to a transcript of the agent’s testimony.
Nariz turned on Guzman immediately and gave up the kingpin’s network of nearby hideouts. He took them to where Guzman had been hiding, but while the marines were using battering rams to enter, the kingpin escaped through a tunnel under a bathtub. Nariz then took the marines on a tour of Guzman’s other nearby safe houses but did not find him.
Other evidence, as well as cooperation from other close associates, ultimately led the marines to a hideout in Mazatlan about a week later, where Guzman was captured.
Hidalgo, in Mexican custody, was indicted by a San Diego federal grand jury in May 2015 on a marijuana-trafficking conspiracy, along with two co-defendants. The charges against him were unsealed on Monday with his first court appearance in the United States.
One co-conspirator has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import methamphetamine in a separate case and is set to be sentenced Monday, while the other pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute marijuana and was sentenced to 60 months in prison.
According to a court filing by prosecutors, the marijuana case against Hidalgo’s co-defendants involved a yacht named Out Hook’n. In 2012, the boat was maintained in National City, then motored to the Cabo San Lucas coast to receive 6,100 kilograms of marijuana. The boat returned to U.S. waters weeks later and docked at the H&M Landing in Point Loma.
DEA agents watched as suitcases were offloaded from the boat into an SUV. The boat was then taken to Long Beach, where agents observed more bundles being offloaded into a rented box truck, according to prosecutors.
Agents searched the boat and seized 679 large bricks of marijuana, in addition to the drugs that had already been offloaded.
The court documents do not detail how Hidalgo allegedly fit into the yacht scheme. A not guilty plea has been entered on his behalf. His attorney did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Another alleged Sinaloa associate was extradited to San Diego this month. Jose Sanchez Villalobos is accused of building and overseeing Guzman’s sophisticated network of tunnels used to smuggle drugs across the border in the U.S.
In December, other high-profile cartel targets came to San Diego: Ismael Zambada Imperial — the son of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, who has led the Sinaloa cartel alongside Guzman — and Gustavo Rivera, alleged to be a leader in the rival Arellano Felix Organization in Tijuana.
A handful of others were reportedly extradited to other parts of the U.S., representing Sinaloa and other cartels. However, some of those reported extraditions have not been confirmed, as they do not appear on U.S. court dockets.
This article is written by Kristina Davis from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.