CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago authorities designated the head of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel Public Enemy No. 1 on Thursday, a first in Chicago since gangster Al Capone earned the top spot after the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre 84 years ago.
Still, the level of violence and corruption generated by Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman and his cartel far exceeds that of Capone, the heads of the Chicago Crime Commission and the Chicago office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said in their joint announcement.
"In my opinion, Guzman is the new Al Capone of Chicago," Jack Riley, special agent in charge of the DEA in Chicago, said in a statement, adding that it "wouldn't even be a fight" if the cartel were pitted against the Chicago Mob.
"His ability to corrupt and enforce his sanctions with his endless supply of revenue is more powerful than Chicago's Italian organized crime gang," Riley said of Guzman.
Guzman, known as "El Chapo" or "Shorty," in Spanish, escaped a Mexican prison in a laundry basket in 2001 to become the country's highest-profile trafficker, hauling tons of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin to U.S. markets in trucks, ultralight aircraft and through clandestine tunnels.
Included on the Forbes list of billionaires since 2009, Guzman has been indicted in the United States on dozens of charges of racketeering and conspiracy to import narcotics. Washington has a $5 million reward for the capture of El Chapo.
The Sinaloa cartel, which has trafficking networks throughout the Midwest, is waging an all-out war for turf with the rival Zetas cartel south of the border, stoking drug violence that has killed tens of thousands in recent years.
The Chicago Crime Commission, formed in 1919 to improve the criminal justice system, says it was first to release a list of top criminals known as the Public Enemies List. The FBI later adopted the list and named it the "Most Wanted."
Capone was designated Public Enemy No. 1 in 1930, the year after an attack he ordered on George "Bugs" Moran's rival gang at a North Side garage on February 14, 1929, that killed seven men, including a doctor who liked to hang out with gangsters.
The men were lined up along a wall by two men dressed as police officers and massacred by two other men using Thompson submachineguns, securing Capone's place at the top of organized crime in Chicago and the public enemy list.
Riley said the Mexican cartel was so deeply embedded in Chicago that law enforcement officers have to operate as if Chicago were on the border with Mexico instead of 1,500 miles away.
The cartel is the major drug supplier in the Chicago area, generating tens of millions of dollars. Chicago and its suburbs also serve as a transit hub for drugs, putting Guzman's fingerprints on much of the area violence, the commission said.
"Compared to Guzman, Al Capone looks like an amateur," J.R. Davis, president and chairman of the Chicago Crime Commission, said in a statement.
Authorities appear to be closing in on Guzman. In recent months, U.S. and Mexican agents have arrested traffickers close to him and seized his assets on both sides of the border.
(Reporting by David Bailey and Tim Gaynor; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Kenneth Barry)