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'El Chapo's' brother, cartel are focus of federal investigation in Southern Arizona

The trial of the notorious drug kingpin known as “El Chapo” wrapped up last week in New York City, but the federal investigation of his brother and the Sinaloa Cartel rolls on in Southern Arizona.

While Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera awaits sentencing after being convicted of numerous charges related to running the cartel, federal agents believe his brother Aureliano Guzman Loera, known as “El Guano,” is running an extensive drug-trafficking operation in northern Mexico, Arizona and Texas, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson.

Federal judges here approved dozens of applications to gather data on calls and messages to BlackBerry devices, WhatsApp accounts and cellphones tied to the “Aureliano Guzman-Loera, aka Guano drug-trafficking organization,” according to records found by the Arizona Daily Star through searches of publicly available records at the federal courthouse in Tucson.

The applications, which were filed by federal prosecutors on behalf of Homeland Security Investigations and unsealed months later, describe drug smuggling from Mexico into Arizona and Texas, as well as moving drugs farther into the United States.

Homeland Security Investigations special agents said Guzman, who is not in custody, was using a BlackBerry to discuss “high level Sinaloa Cartel operational business” and a judge allowed the agents to gather data on the incoming and outgoing calls and messages tied to the BlackBerry.

Another member of the Guano organization had “high frequency” communications with a major U.S. bank, records show. Another member used a BlackBerry to “discuss meetings with Mexican military and drug trafficking activities,” while another coordinated large shipments of cocaine from Colombia.

Another application said a Guano member used a BlackBerry to “provide information on rival drug cartels and cartel enforcement.”

Still other applications said BlackBerrys and WhatsApp accounts were used in various aspects of cultivating drugs and moving them around Mexico.

The widespread use of BlackBerrys by the Sinaloa Cartel came to light at the trial for El Chapo.

The HSI team in Nogales collected more than 1 million BlackBerry messages sent among El Chapo’s organization, according to an account of the trial by a New York Times reporter.

After El Chapo’s conviction, the HSI office in Nogales was credited by the Drug Enforcement Administration and others for its role in bringing the drug kingpin to justice.

A spokeswoman for HSI in Arizona declined to comment on the Nogales office’s role in the investigation of El Chapo or the applications filed in Tucson’s federal court.

Since El Chapo’s arrest in January 2016, the question of who is in charge of the sprawling Sinaloa Cartel has lacked a definitive answer.

The main player for the Sinaloa Cartel is Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who has helped run the cartel since its founding more than 30 years ago, The Associated Press reported last week.

In August, a columnist with the Mexican newspaper El Universal wrote that “Mayo is not important: El Guano is the boss.”

Other news outlets have pointed to El Chapo’s sons as the cartel’s leaders.

While the Daily Star’s search of court records focused on the Guano organization, records also showed numerous other drug-trafficking organizations on Arizona’s border with Mexico, including one that runs large-scale drug-smuggling attempts using tractor-trailer rigs at ports of entry for the Sinaloa Cartel.

Another organization coordinates cocaine shipments from various points in Arizona to cities on the East Coast, as well as picking up cash proceeds from drug sales in those cities and transporting them to Sonora.

Star apprentice Tirion Morris contributed reporting.

Contact reporter Curt Prendergast at 573-4224 or or on Twitter @CurtTucsonStar

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