- Sinaloa cartel chief Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman received a life sentence on Wednesday for his conviction on drug-trafficking and other charges.
- While Guzman is unlikely to see the light of day again, his name will live on in an array of products – and the US government likely can’t do anything about it.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
On Wednesday, Mexican cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán was sentenced to life in prison, five months after a US court convicted him of charges including drug trafficking, conspiracy, and use of firearms.
The day before, Alejandrina Gisselle Guzmán Salazar, who is believed to be Guzmán’s eldest daughter, officially presented a fashion line named for her father, “El Chapo 701,” in Guadalajara, the Jalisco state capital.
The number 701 refers to the rank Guzmán’s once held on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people. As with most wealthy convicts, the US government wants Guzmán to forfeit some assets – officially $12.7 billion worth.
A fashion line capitalizing on the notoriety of one of the world’s most renowned narcos would be a perfect piggy bank, but the US government will likely be unable to target the business, according to former US officials.
“There’s really nothing that the government can do about it, much as they want to take every dollar,” Duncan Levin, a former assistant US attorney who focused on money laundering and asset forfeiture, told Business Insider.
New York state used to have a measure known as the “Son of Sam” law – named for David Berkowitz, who confessed to eight shootings in 1977 – to prevent people from profiting from their crimes.
But in 1991, the US Supreme Court struck that down in an 8-0 ruling, finding such a law was “inconsistent with the 1st amendment,” Levin said.
To go after the money without proving some kind of law-breaking had taken place “would take money away from somebody for using their freedom of expression,” added Levin, now a managing partner at the law firm Tucker Levin.
A lawyer this week said that El Chapo 701 is owned by Alejandrina, Guzmán’s daughter with his first wife, María Alejandrina Salazar Hernández. Products Alejandrina displayed in Guadalajara included jackets, caps, belts, wallets, shoes, and lighters.
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Some of the products – like the belts, which cost up to $100 – were made by inmates at Puente Grande prison, which Guzmán broke out of in 2001. Representatives for the brand have said some proceeds will go to supporting reintegration of prisoners and to addiction-treatment programs.
In March, Guzmán authorized the use of his name and signature by the company “El Chapo Guzmán: JGL LLC” – the name of which referred to his full name, Joaquin Guzmán Loera – to be run by his 29-year-old wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro. He got special permission to sign the documents in his cell.
Guzmán’s lawyers said at the time that it was “Emma’s project” and that Guzmán, seeking only to support his wife and their young daughters, would not see any profit. (It’s not clear if Alejandrina, who was deported from the US in 2012, also had Guzmán’s permission for her brand.)
With Guzmán’s approval and clean records for Alejandrina and Aispuro, it’s unlikely those businesses could be targeted by US authorities, said Mike Vigil, former head of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
“I think that it’s not going to be hindered by the [US] government, because his daughter is clean,” Vigil told Business Insider. “All she’s doing is selling the Chapo brand.”
“It’s an effort to make money on the fame of drug traffickers, which I think is despicable,” Vigil said, adding that as long as the business and the people running it are legitimate, there’s not much the US can do.
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“If it were being run by one of Guzmán’s sons … who are wanted here in the United States,” then the US Treasury department could step in and add it to its blacklist of people and entities linked to drug trafficking, Vigil said.
“But if it’s somebody that doesn’t have a record, like his daughter … then the government would not be able to do anything.”
‘A fundamental, 1st amendment right’
An “El Chapo” Guzmán fashion brand would not be the first product line of its kind. Narco-related wares have sprung up throughout Mexico and around the world, Vigil said, describing Chapo-themed products ranging from caps to cupcakes on sale in Mexico City.
While there’s no evidence that Alejandrina’s or Aispuro’s businesses have committed any crime, drug traffickers and their associates often rely on businesses that appear legitimate to cover illicit activity. Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel is believed to have used imports of footwear and clothing, brought through Los Angeles, to launder drug money.
Businesses related to Guzmán and his family are likely to face intense scrutiny, both because of Guzmán’s activities and the nature of his associates.
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The US has yet to recover any of the billions it says Guzmán earned through his criminal activities, but if Guzmán himself is attempting to cash in on his name, then the government could have some recourse to fulfill restitution and forfeiture orders.
The question in the case of Alejandrina’s and Aispuro’s ventures is what Guzmán could wind up with, Levin said.
“If he owns a piece of the business, if he’s bringing home money, that money is going to the US government.” Making money from the business would be “same as him making money from a job” and would be recoverable.
But other than going after money the jailed kingpin may earn, “there’s really nothing they can do about it,” Levin said.
Guzmán’s family members “have a fundamental, 1st amendment right to use his notoriety, whether it’s for a book … or something a step beyond just speech.”