Two high-ranking prison officials and 16 staff are under investigation after three inmates with links to the Sinaloa Cartel and convicted drug trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán escaped from a Mexico City penitentiary on Wednesday.
Víctor Manuel Félix Beltrán, 32, from Culiacán, Sinaloa, Luis Fernando Meza González, 36, also from Culiacán, and Yael Osuna Navarro, 37, from Nayarit – all of whom were awaiting extradition to the United State on drug trafficking charges – escaped from the Reclusorio Sur prison in the south of the capital.
Antonio Hazael Ruiz, undersecretary for the Mexico City prison system, said that the prisoners had to get past five locked security doors to flee, while Interior Secretary Rosa Icela Rodríguez said that there had clearly been collusion with prison staff.
Known as “El Vic,” Félix Beltrán is the son of Víctor Manuel Félix Félix, who was a close associate of Guzmán and is the father-in-law of his son, Jesús Alfredo. Arrested in October 2017 and sentenced to four years in prison last April, Félix Beltrán was allegedly the financial chief of a Sinaloa Cartel cell led by El Chapo’s sons.
He was held in the Altiplano prison, a federally run high-security facility in México state, between November 2017 and November 2018 but was subsequently returned to Reclusorio Sur. Unnamed federal officials told the newspaper El Universal that his return to the Mexico City prison was ordered because insufficient evidence was provided to justify his incarceration in a high-security prison.
Meza González was jailed on drug trafficking charges in November 2017 and five months later a judge gave the green light for his extradition to the United States on drug importation and criminal association charges.
Osuna Navarro, also known as Julio César Estrada Montaño, was imprisoned in October 2019 on charges of criminal association, money laundering and drug trafficking in the United States. A warrant for his arrest for the purpose of extradition to the U.S. was issued in March last year.
Mexico City security officials told the newspaper Milenio that deputy prison director Omar Tonatiuh Zamora Mendoza, deputy security director Óscar Labastida Galván and 16 staff including four women are under investigation by the capital’s Attorney General’s Office in connection with the prison break.
Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said the federal Attorney General’s Office would also participate in a “thorough” investigation and pledged that staff found to have assisted the escape will be dismissed.
“If something is found, of course there will be dismissals. We’re going to review everything, how and why it occurred, in order to make adjustments to security measures,” she said.
Ruiz and Rodríguez both said that requests had been made to transfer the three escapees to federal prisons but there was no response from the judges in charge of their cases.
However, Milenio reported that no such requests were made for Felix Beltrán and Meza González and that in any case both men were granted injunctions last year that prevented their transfer. Sources told El Universal that there were no plans to transfer Osuna Navarro either.
Ruiz said that he was notified of the prison break at 8:00am Wednesday but the exact time at which the inmates escaped was unclear.
“They were in the entry area [of the prison] . . .The inquiries will start there,” he said, adding that someone had opened the five locked doors for them.
“The [security camera] videos have been safeguarded to avoid manipulation,” Ruiz said.
Interior Secretary Rodríguez asserted that “of course there will be sanctions because the collusion in this case is clear – the escape from this kind of prison cannot be carried out without the assistance of public servants.”
In fleeing the Mexico City jail, the escapees followed in the footsteps of Guzmán Loera, the former Sinaloa Cartel leader who was found guilty of drug trafficking last February and is now serving a life sentence in the United States’ most secure penitentiary.
El Chapo escaped from a Jalisco prison in 2001 by hiding inside a laundry cart and fled the Altiplano prison in 2015 via a 1.5-kilometer-long tunnel that led into the shower area of his cell.