Crime and Violence

Son of Sinaloa Cartel leader arrested in Culiacán

FBI award poster
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s award poster for information leading to the arrest of Juan José Esparragoza Moreno, “El Azul,” of the Sinaloa Cartel. Source: El Universal.

01/28/17 (written by kheinle) — The Anti-Narcotics Division within Mexico’s Federal Police force (Policía Federal, PF) arrested Juan José Esparragoza Monzón, “El Negro,” on January 19, 2017 in Culiacán, Sinaloa. El Negro is the son of Juan José Esparragoza Moreno, “El Azul,” one of the presumed leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel. His arrest came the same day the Mexican government extradited notorious Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to the United States.

El Negro was one of the top 122 individuals the Peña Nieto administration identified as priorities to capture. El Universal reports that his arrest was the 106th such suspect to have been taken down since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in 2012. El Negro allegedly played a significant role in the Sinaloa Cartel’s operations. Authorities say he was actively involved in the cartel for over 20 years, and he currently oversaw a drug distribution network and the cartel’s finances. According to Renato Sales Heredia, the head of the National Security Commission (Comisión Nacional de Seguridad, CNS), El Negro was responsible “for the wave of violence in Mexicali and Tijuana, Baja California.” Reports indicate he was arrested while carrying three firearms, a sizable amount of cocaine, and communication equipment.

El Negro’s father, El Azul, is an alleged leader of the Sinaloa Cartel alongside El Chapo Guzmán and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada. With his extradition, Guzmán now faces 17 charges of organized crime, murder, and drug trafficking in New York, whereas Zambada’s whereabouts is still unknown. El Azul, meanwhile, reportedly died of a heart attack in 2014, although his death was never confirmed. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) still has a $5 million reward for information leading to El Azul’s arrest, while the Mexican Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) has an award of $30 million pesos. El Azul has often been considered a quieter, more discreet leader doing more behind the scenes to support the Sinaloa Cartel’s operations than his counterparts, Guzmán and Zambada.

The impact of Guzmán’s extradition and El Negro’s arrest on drug trafficking and “the wave of violence” in Baja California caused by the latter are yet to be seen.


“Key leader in Sinaloa Cartel believed to have died from heart attack.” Justice in Mexico. June 12, 2014.

“Detienen a Juan José Esparragoza, hijo de un líder del Cártel de Sinaloa, en Culiacán.” Animal Político. January 23, 2017.

Sánchez, Astrid. “Fuerzas federales detienen a hijo de ‘El Azul.’” El Universal. January 23, 2017.

Sánchez, Astrid. “Perfil. ‘El Azul’, el capo discreto.” El Universal. January 23, 2017.

Verza, Maria. “Mexico captures son of Sinaloa drug cartel boss ‘El Azul.’” Associated Press, Washington Post. January 23, 2017.

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