The execution of a top Sinaloa Cartel enforcer who was recently in US custody and fled to Mexico raises the question: Who benefited from his killing?
José Rodrigo Aréchiga Gamboa, alias “El Chino Antrax” -- once the head of the Sinaloa Cartel’s hit squad Los Antrax -- was found dead inside an abandoned vehicle on a dirt road east of Culiacán on May 16, local news outlet El Sol de Sinaloa reported. Ten days earlier, he had escaped from federal probation supervision in San Diego.
Also dead in the car were his sister, Ada Jimena Aréchiga Gamboa, and her husband, Juan Guillermo García — the brother of recently deceased Mexican congressman Ocadio García Espinoza. The three, who were abducted amid a firefight, were shot dead and their bodies showed signs of torture.
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Known for his luxurious lifestyle, Aréchiga Gamboa was arrested at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport on an Interpol warrant in December 2013 and extradited to the United States in July 2014. In May 2015, he pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to import cocaine and marijuana into the United States, admitting that he had been a “direct participant” in acts and threats of violence by the Sinaloa Cartel.
The charges carried a potential life sentence, but a judge sentenced Aréchiga Gamboa in December 2019 to seven years and three months in prison, including time served.
On March 3, 2020, Aréchiga Gamboa was released under supervision, according to court documents. On May 6, 2020, a parole officer reported him missing from his residence.
As a young man, he rose through the ranks of the cartel to eventually lead the brutal Antrax hit squad. He ordered and participated in some of the more brutal incidents during Sinaloa Cartel's wars with the Beltrán-Leyva Organization and the Arellano Félix Organization from 2008 to 2009, including torturing rivals and stringing their bodies from bridges.
“Chino Antrax is one of the highest-ranking Sinaloa Cartel kingpins ever prosecuted in the United States,” said US Attorney Laura Duffy at the time of Aréchiga Gamboa’s plea agreement.
InSight Crime Analysis
The brazen execution of a Sinaloa Cartel enforcer as high profile as Aréchiga Gamboa -- carried out deep within the crime group's stronghold -- suggests the hit was an intra-group matter ordered by its top ranks.
It is difficult to know who gained most from his death. In the days since the hit, there have been no reports of retaliatory violence. This makes it likely that his killing was ordered by one of two parties: current cartel leader Ismael Zambada García, alias "El Mayo," or the sons of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, known collectively as “Los Chapitos.”
Following the arrest and extradition of Guzmán, the Sinaloa Cartel’s legendary boss, Zambada and Los Chapitos have oscillated between infighting and power-sharing, while also weathering attacks from other crime groups.
For example, there have been reports that Zambada did not support the mobilization of gunmen to free Ovidio Guzmán from police custody, which resulted in a massive firefight in October 2019. Aréchiga Gamboa may have been a pawn in their rivalry.
Prior to his arrest, Aréchiga Gamboa reportedly had a close relationship with the Zambada family, having grown up with El Mayo's sons in Culiacán, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Aréchiga Gamboa's long history with Zambada might have made it unlikely that the aging capo would have ordered his death. But the unusually short length of Aréchiga Gamboa’s sentence suggests that he cooperated with US law enforcement and El Mayo may have him killed for his cooperation.
On the other hand, Guzman's sons, Los Chapitos, likely had the most to gain from the execution, removing a potential important ally of Zambada's.