Sinaloa cartel drug tunneler and trafficker Jose Sanchez-Villalobos has been extradited to the United States from Mexico to face trial.
Sanchez-Villalobos had built two major drug tunnels from Tijuana to the Otay Mesa Industrial Park in San Diego County and had run them at the behest of cartel leader Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman in the late 2000s and early 2010s. For years they had trafficked numerous types of drugs, with the cartel charging other traffickers who wished to use the tunnels as well.
Sanchez-Villalobos was indicted in 2012 on nine counts of conspiracy to distribute and import illegal drugs and four counts of building, financing, and operating tunnels for the purpose of smuggling drugs across the border. That year he was also arrested in Mexico by Mexican authorities, but due to different administration changes in Mexico and the United States, an extradition wasn’t possible for many years.
His handing over to American authorities over the weekend was the culmination of nearly eight years of requests and negotiations.
While the successful extradition has been viewed positively by people in San Diego County, the upcoming trial may bring a side effect with broad consequences: an effect on numerous political races in the area.
“San Diego has always had stories of drug tunnels and ‘El Chapo’ like drug lords in the area,” said Bob Brewster, a San Diego-area pollster who has helped conduct polls on every major race in the county since the 1990’s. “But this one is different. He was high up there in the organization, and he mainly helped traffic marijuana, which was illegal to smoke ten years ago, but is now common.”
“San Diego hasn’t seen a major drug trial like this in a while, and it’s going to make this a hot button issue again. In fact, based on the security precautions they usually take during large drug kingpin trials and the media around it, it will be a big factor during the election.”
“Right now, within San Diego County in November, we have Assembly and State Senate races, as well as Congressional races. And let’s not forget that huge mayors race in San Diego itself. That’s over a dozen races in an area that will have a huge drug trial. And this won’t just be a ‘drugs-at-the-border’ issue. We’ll have drugs, border relations, law enforcement funding, drug legality, possible mandatory minimum echoes, and several other issues this can influence.
“Housing and homelessness are big, but this may ramp up crime and drug issues by a lot. And some candidates out there are weaker on that than others. It can be a game changer for them.”
The trial of Sanchez-Villalobos is expected to be in Southern California court later this year. Nearly all the counts against Sanchez-Villalobos will carry a life in prison sentence.
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