A reputed high-ranking member of the Sinaloa cartel who once served as bodyguard to the son of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has been brought back to Chicago to face sweeping drug conspiracy charges a week after his infamous boss was extradited to New York.
Jesus Beltran Leon, also known as “El Trebol,” pleaded not guilty Wednesday in a hearing before U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo, according to court records. Leon was arrested in November 2014 in Mexico and extradited this week, records show.
Leon, 33, was added in 2014 to a sweeping indictment against the notorious Mexican cartel that has been described as the most significant drug case in Chicago’s history. The indictment, which also names Guzman and several of his top henchmen, alleged the cartel used jumbo jets, submarines and tunnels to smuggle massive amounts of drugs into the U.S., much of which was later distributed in wholesale quantities through a network built by Chicago twins Pedro and Margarito Flores.
The charges alleged that Leon acted as a lieutenant for El Chapo’s son, Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar, and helped coordinate vast shipments of drugs into the U.S. for distribution. The cartel members then laundered billions of dollars in proceeds back to Mexico, according to the charges.
To protect their lucrative drug trade, cartel members, including Leon, used any means necessary, including “bribing corrupt public officials,” committing kidnappings and extortion, and threatening or committing violence against rival drug dealers as well as members of law enforcement, according to the charges.
Castillo ordered Leon held without bond, records show. His lawyer, Paul Brayman, had no comment on the case Thursday.
Leon’s arraignment came just five days after El Chapo appeared in federal court in New York and pleaded not guilty to similar charges brought against the cartel there. Guzman was extradited to the U.S. last week — a year after he was captured in a firefight between his bodyguards and Mexican marine special forces in the Sinaloa city of Los Mochis on the Pacific Coast.
Guzman had spent 13 years as a fugitive after breaking out of one prison, was arrested in 2014 in Mexico but made a spectacular escape from a maximum-security prison in July 2015 through a mile-long tunnel that was equipped with a motorcycle outfitted to run on rails.
Guzman is facing indictments in seven jurisdictions, including Chicago, but authorities have said they will try him on charges in New York.
Many legal experts believe Chicago has the strongest case against the cartel boss. It includes the cooperation of the Flores twins — who recorded Guzman talking about drug shipments on an undercover device — and the testimony of Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla, a son of one of Guzman’s top lieutenants who pleaded guilty in 2013 and is awaiting sentencing.
The Flores twins, meanwhile, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2015.