The son of a former prominent leader of the Sinaloa Cartel has pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking and money laundering charges in the United States, raising questions about his motivations for doing so as the group continues to fragment.
On August 7, Damáso López Serrano, alias "Mini Lic," entered a not guilty plea to drug trafficking and money laundering charges in a US court in San Diego, the Associated Press reported. His court appearance came less than two weeks after Mini Lic surrendered to US authorities at the US-Mexico border in California, and just months after the arrest of his father, Dámaso López Núñez, alias "El Lic" or "el Licenciado," in Mexico City.
Nahúm Abraham Sicairos Montalvo, alias "El Quinceañero," the pair's alleged financial operator, was also taken into custody by Mexican authorities at the end of July, Milenio reported.
In August of 2016, all three were indicted by US authorities in California on drug trafficking and money laundering charges. Licenciado and Mini Lic were also both indicted by US authorities in Virginia in December 2016 for conspiring to distribute drugs for importation.
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Years before his arrest in 2011, Licenciado was also the focus of another set of charges in Virginia for conspiring to distribute drugs for importation into the United States and commit money laundering. US authorities are seeking Licenciado's extradition, according to an August 7 Justice Department press release.
InSight Crime Analysis
Mini Lic's not guilty plea is not unusual. He is more than likely pleading innocent until he can get a deal worked out with US authorities for a reduced sentence in exchange for his cooperation. In the past, many other drug traffickers and business tycoons around the region have pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for cooperating with authorities.
Mike Vigil, a retired Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent, told InSight Crime that Mini Lic's not guilty plea is likely a temporary move until US authorities can see "what type of cooperation he can provide" before they enter into a plea agreement.
As the godson of former Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, Mini Lic likely knows very well the infrastructure of the cartel, trafficking routes, where the money flows and the inner workings of the group's operations. After El Chapo's arrest, Mini Lic and his father were battling for control over the organization's operations with El Chapo's sons and Ismael Zambada Garcia, alias "El Mayo."
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It is for these reasons that Vigil suggests US authorities will try and use Mini Lic to testify against El Chapo, which may impact the deal he is able to broker with US authorities.
"Mini Lic could provide a lot of knowledge in terms of Guzmán's activities because he witnessed a lot of that," Vigil told InSight Crime. "He would be a highly valuable witness."
Still, while some analysts think that Mini Lic's surrender was due to his father's likely negotiations with US authorities, others believe that it is still too early to know the logistics of these possible discussions and their potential consequences for the Sinaloa Cartel.