Filed Under:

Mexican Drug Lord's Reach Stretches To Chicago Streets

Play associated audio

Drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman is one of the major villains in Chicago's heroin epidemic, and his recent arrest in Mexico is sparking a debate over how the city's drug trade will be affected.

Chicago is the heroin hub for the Midwest, with cartels often using stash houses in quiet, residential neighborhoods. Last fall, for example, Chicago police raided a cute, quaint two-story house on the southwest side of the city and allegedly seized about $10 million worth of heroin.

"I mean, they don't want to have a large police presence where there's a lot of shootings or gang activity where there's gonna be a heightened sense of police awareness — more cars stopped, more people gone after — so they gravitate to that quieter neighborhood and they like to hide within the regular hardworking citizens," says Chicago Police Chief Nick Roti, who heads the organized crime investigative unit.

The drugs stored in these stash houses will likely end up heading north to Milwaukee or east to Detroit or south to Indianapolis — or they might just stay in Chicago.

Chicago's West Side is home to a large number of the open-air drug markets. Kathie Kane-Willis heads the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University and lives just a few blocks a major open-air drug market in the West Side neighborhood of Humboldt Park.

"It's not like there's a sign that says 'Here's the open-air drug market' and you can just drive right up, but if you know what you're looking for and the people who are engaging in the open-air drug market are looking for customers, it's pretty easy to make that contact without any even verbal communication," Kane-Willis says.

It's drug corners like this where Guzman is said to have left the biggest scar. Authorities blame his cartel for a rise in turf battles and bloodshed.

Kane-Willis doesn't think Guzman's arrest will make much difference.

"I think that the infrastructure on the ground is still significantly in place and that Guzman was on the run for some time, and so I don't think that there's going to be any disruption in the supply," she says.

But that's not how former Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Cramer sees it.

"In the Chicago drug trade, his impact is immense. We see the violence in Chicago and the nexus of that invariably is drugs and his organization in Mexico is involved in all that," Cramer says. "So in some way, shape or form, a disproportionate amount of drugs that make its way to the streets of Chicago has touched his organization."

Up next for Guzman is what will likely be a lengthy extradition process. If he leaves Mexican soil, U.S. attorneys will likely be lining up in hopes of being the first to take him to court.

Copyright 2014 Chicago Public Radio. To see more, visit

WAMU 88.5

Kate Mulgrew: "Born With Teeth" (Rebroadcast)

Kate Mulgrew, who stars as "Red" in the Netflix TV series "Orange Is The New Black", opens up in a new memoir about her complicated family and the baby she gave away for adoption as a young woman.


Swapping The Street For The Orchard, City Dwellers Take Their Pick Of Fruit

Urban foragers don't just pick their meals from the trash; many eat only the finest, freshest produce — picked from city trees. The League of Urban Canners harvests fruit from trees to make jam.

Reconsidering The Pilgrims, Piety And America's Founding Principles

Conservatives who want to emphasize America's Christian roots embrace the story of the Pilgrims and the Mayflower Compact. But some historians say their role in the country's founding is overstated.

From Takeout To Breakups: Apps Can Deliver Anything, For A Price

Convenience is at an all-time premium — and a lot of smartphone apps promise to make many of the things we do every day easier. In a time-crunch or sheer laziness, how far will the apps take us?

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.