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’El Chapo’ godson pleads guilty to role in drug cartel

By Kristina Davis
The San Diego Union-Tribune

January 14. 2018 11:27PM
Soldiers escort Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias “El Chapo,” upon his arrival to the hangar of the Attorney General’s Office in Mexico City on Jan. 8, 2016. (Pedro Mera/Xinhua/Sipa USA/TNS)

SAN DIEGO — A man considered to be the highest-ranking Mexican cartel leader to self-surrender to the United States pleaded guilty in federal court in San Diego to a scheme to distribute and import methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine to the U.S., authorities said.

Damaso Lopez-Serrano, 29, is believed to be the godson of Sinaloa drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. In his plea, Lopez-Serrano admitted to being a leader in the cartel, acting as a major coordinator of moving drugs into the U.S. and importing narcotics across the border. He also admitted to possessing guns for his cartel duties.

Lopez-Serrano faces a mandatory sentence of at least 10 years in prison, and he has agreed to forfeit $1 million in cash.

Lopez-Serrano, also known as “Mini Lic,” gets his nickname from his father, Damaso Lopez Nunez, also known as “El Licenciado.” The father, also reputed to be in the cartel’s leadership, is in Mexican custody awaiting extradition to the U.S.

Lopez-Serrano pleaded guilty last week to all charges in the indictment, as well as to a cocaine distribution conspiracy charge out of Virginia that also names his father. He presented himself to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the Calexico West Port of Entry on July 27. News reports out of Mexico said authorities there had been hunting for him in Mexicali at the time.

Lopez-Serrano, who once enjoyed a close relationship with Guzman’s sons, was said to be in the middle of a power struggle within the cartel after his father fought them for control of the organization.

The guilty plea is part of an extensive assault on the Sinaloa cartel by the U.S. attorney’s office, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and agencies around the country.

The investigation began in 2011 into what was at the time believed to be a small-scale drug distribution cell in National City and Chula Vista, Calif.. It was discovered the drugs were being supplied by the cartel, and the case opened wide. More than 125 people have been charged, including the cartel’s top leadership tier.

Guzman’s co-leader of the cartel, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, is charged in the initial indictment, as are two of his four sons — one of whom is in Mexican custody pending extradition to the U.S. One of Guzman’s sons also has been charged.

Guzman is awaiting trial in New York on drug trafficking charges.

The Sinaola cartel case has some ties to New Hampshire. One of several meetings organizing the delivery of 346 kilograms of cocaine took place in New Castle in April 2011. A member of the Sinaloa cartel, Rafael Humberto Celaya Valenzuela, was convicted in U.S. District Court in Concord in December 2015 on a charge of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine. He was sentenced to 17 years in federal prison.

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