Suspected Mexican drug trafficker Juan Jose Esparragoza Monzon, aka El Negro, reportedly escaped from a prison in the city of Culiacan in northwest Mexico’s Sinaloa state on Thursday afternoon.
Monzon, who was captured January 19, is the son of Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, who is a longtime partner of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in the upper echelon of the Sinaloa cartel.
Moreno, known as El Azul, is believed to be a major player in the cartel but has remained out of the public view. Rumors have recently emerged that he died of a heart attack in 2014.
Monzon reportedly broke out with four other high-danger prisoners, and all of them are believed to be connected to the Sinaloa cartel.
According to Sinaloa-based newspaper Rio Doce, the alarm was sounded at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, calling for support from three levels of government. Two hours later, a search operation began around the prison but did not locate Monzon or his fellow escapees.
According to the deputy secretary of public security for Sinaloa state, authorities at the prison realized there had been an escape after a 911 call came in reporting someone had been wounded inside the facility.
He also said the method of their escape couldn’t be known until the Mexican attorney general was able to mount an investigation.
Monzon, accused of some 20 years of involvement with the Sinaloa cartel, is considered to be part of the cartel’s intermediate generation, between the older, high-ranking members like Guzman and Moreno and “narco juniors” like Guzman’s sons.
The four other men who escaped are believed to be associated with the Sinaloa cartel.
Francisco Javier Zazueta Rosales, aka Pancho Chimal, is suspected of being a chief of sicarios, or hit men, for “El Chapo” Guzman and of ordering and participating in a September 30 ambush in Culiacan that left five Mexican soldiers dead.
The ambush was believed to be an attempt to rescue another cartel figure, El Kevin, who was recently killed.
Along with Zazueta and Monzon were Jesus Peña Gonzalez, aka El 20, thought to be the security chief for Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, a top Sinaloa cartel figure who is still free; Alfredo Limon Sanchez, aka El Limon, a confidant of Zambada; and Rafael Guadalupe Felix Nuñez, aka El Changuito Antrax, a financial operator in Los Antrax, an armed group aligned with the Sinaloa cartel.
Mexican federal registries seen by Mexican newspaper Milenio showed that the order to hold Monzon in Culiacan had been granted on January 23 by a judge in the fourth district in Sinaloa. Zazueta was granted a similar order on February 21 by the same judge. Monzon won a second suspension in another court on January 30.
The escape comes at an especially fraught time for Sinaloa state and its eponymous cartel.
Since the capture of “El Chapo” Guzman in January 2016, the region has seen the effects of what appears to be infighting between remaining members of the cartel, including an attack in the municipality of Badiraguato, where Guzman and several other top Sinaloa capos are from. (Guzman’s mother still lives there and was forced from her home by the attack.)
That fighting has intensified in the wake of Guzman’s extradition on January 19.
In early February, two of Guzman’s sons and “El Mayo” Zambada were reportedly ambushed by another high-ranking Sinaloa cartel member, Damaso Lopez Nuñez.
Some reports attributed the attack to Damaso Lopez Serrano, the son of Lopez Nuñez who is thought to be the founder of Los Antrax, the armed group for which one of the escapees worked.