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Cartel kingpin Chicago's new Public Enemy No. 1

Caption
FILE - In this June 10, 1993 file photo, Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias "El Chapo" Guzman, is shown to the media after his arrest at the high security prison of Almoloya de Juarez, on the outskirts of Mexico City. Guzman escaped from a maximum security federal prison in 2001 and continues to be a fugitive. On Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, the Chicago Crime Commission and the Drug Enforcement Administration is scheduled to name Guzman, the head of Mexico's Sinaloa crime cartel, as the new Public Enemy No. 1., the first time since Prohibition-era gangster Al Capone that authorities in the city deemed a crime figure so ominous a threat to deserve the label. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

CHICAGO – A drug kingpin in Mexico who has never set foot in Chicago has been named the city's new Public Enemy No. 1 — the same notorious label assigned to Al Capone at the height of the Prohibition-era gang wars.

The Chicago Crime Commission announced the move Thursday, saying it considers Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman even more menacing than Capone because he's the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, which supplies most of the narcotics sold in the city.

"What Al Capone was to beer and whiskey during Prohibition, Guzman is to narcotics," said Art Bilek, the commission's executive vice president. "Of the two, Guzman is by far the greater threat. ... And he has more power and financial capability than Capone ever dreamed of."

The commission — a non-government body that tracks city crime trends — designated Capone Public Enemy No. 1 in 1930. It has declared other outlaws public enemies, but Capone was the only one deemed No. 1.

Until now.

Guzman is thought to be holed up and guarded by a personal army in a Mexican mountain hideaway. And there's nothing to indicate he's ever been anywhere near Chicago, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which joined the commission in affixing the title to Guzman.

Still, for all practical purposes, Guzman should be treated as a local Chicago crime boss for the havoc his cartel creates in the nation's third-largest city, said the head of the DEA's Chicago office, Jack Riley.

The point of singling out Guzman now, added Bilek, is to inspire more public support for going after him.

"Ninety-nine percent of the people in the United States have never heard of this man," he said. "Concerted action ... must be taken now against Guzman before he establishes a bigger network and a bigger empire in the United States."

Capone based his bootlegging and other criminal enterprises in Chicago during Prohibition, when it was illegal to sell alcohol in the U.S. He gained the greatest notoriety for the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre when assassins wielding Thompson machine guns shot dead seven of his rivals in a downtown garage.

Yet Riley said the 5-foot-6-inch Guzman — whose nickname means "shorty" in Spanish — is more ruthless than Capone, whose nickname was "Scarface."

"If I was to put those two guys in a ring, El Chapo would eat that guy (Capone) alive," Riley told The Associated Press in a recent interview at his office, pointing at pictures of the men.

Riley described Chicago as one of Sinaloa's most important cities, not only as a final destination for drugs but as a hub to distribute them across the U.S.

"This is where Guzman turns his drugs into money," he said.

Cartels, blamed for more than 50,000 deaths in Mexico in recent years, are rarely directly linked to slayings in Chicago. But Bilek said Thursday that cartel-led trafficking is an underlying cause of territorial battles between street gangs that are responsible for rising homicide rates.

Guzman "virtually has his fingerprints on the guns that are killing the children of this city," Bilek told a news conference.

The cartel leader, who has been in hiding since escaping from a Mexican prison in a laundry cart in 2001, is one of the world's most dangerous and most wanted fugitives. He's also one of the richest: Forbes magazine has estimated his fortune at $1 billion.

Now in his mid-50s, Guzman has been indicted on federal trafficking charges in Chicago and, if he is ever captured alive, U.S. officials want him extradited here to face trial. The U.S. government has offered a $5 million reward for his capture.

"His time is coming," Riley said. "I can't wait for that day."

It was only a coincidence, Bilek said, that the announcement naming Guzman Public Enemy No. 1 came on the anniversary of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, which raised public pressure to capture Capone.

Within two years of being designated Public Enemy No. 1 in 1930, Capone — who also once seemed invincible — had been captured, convicted and imprisoned.

With the same label now attached to Guzman, Bilek said, "we hope the same thing will happen to him."

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Follow Michael Tarm at www.twitter.com/mtarm

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