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Damaso Lopez Serrano, left, Mexican journalist Javier Valdez, right The U.S. released Dámaso López Serrano, left, from prison, but Mexico wants him extradited to face charges that he had Sinaloa journalist Javier Valdez, right, killed in 2017.

Son of cartel ‘capo’ released from prison in US; Mexico will seek extradition

Damaso López Serrano could petition that sending him home violates a UN convention on torture

A convicted drug trafficker who is accused of ordering the murder of a Mexican journalist has been released from prison in the United States, prompting the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) to assert that it will now “insist” on his extradition to Mexico.

Dámaso López Serrano, son of former Sinaloa Cartel leader Dámaso “El Licenciado” (The Graduate) López Núñez, was released from a jail in San Diego, California, on Friday, according to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Fearing that he could be murdered by the sons of former Sinaloa Cartel honcho Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, López Serrano turned himself in to the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2017. He subsequently pleaded guilty in the U.S. to the trafficking of methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine.

The man known as “El Mini Lic” (The Mini Graduate) was given a six-year sentence, but a judge – considering his cooperation with authorities – ruled last Friday that he could leave prison.

slain journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas
Javier Valdez founded the media outlet Rio Doce, worked for the Mexican newspaper La Jornada and and was the author of several books about organized crime.

However, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw acknowledged that the 34-year-old remains subject to an “immigration detainer,” meaning that he could be deported to Mexico.

At the hearing, “El Mini Lic” declared that he would be “a completely different person than I used to be” and pleaded for “an opportunity to start a new life.”

However, the future could see him behind bars in Mexico. The FGR noted in a statement Saturday that it obtained an arrest warrant for López Serrano in 2020 due to his “alleged intellectual responsibility” for the murder of Javier Valdez Cárdenas, a journalist who was killed in Culiacán, Sinaloa, in May 2017.

It said that it started the process to have López Serrano extradited to Mexico at that time and noted that Interpol issued a Red Notice for him. The extradition request has been awaiting his “due compliance” with his sentence in the United States, the FGR said.

Memorial bust to Javier Valdez in Culiacan, Sinaloa.
Memorial bust to Javier Valdez in his hometown of Culiacan, Sinaloa.

It added that it would now “insist” on his extradition to Mexico as soon as possible. The FGR noted that two men have already been convicted and sentenced for the murder of Valdez, founder of the Río Doce newspaper and a contributor to the newspaper La Jornada and the news agency AFP.

Federal prosecutors last year brought 32 witnesses before a judge to support its argument that the killing of the journalist was premeditated and in retaliation for articles he had written about organized crime. A court found that Valdez’s murder was indeed retaliation for a series of stories he wrote about López Núñez and López Serrano.

Valdez’s widow condemned the latter’s release in a Facebook post. “El Mini Lic, who paid 100,000 pesos [US $5,000 at today’s exchange rate], will now work for the United States government,” she wrote. “The United States protects murderers of journalists. We won’t allow it!”

According to a Vice News report, there is no guarantee that López Serrano – who is listed on court records as El Chapo’s godson – will ever be sent back to Mexico.

“While his immigration detainer means he may still be in government custody, he could argue that being sent home would violate the United Nations Convention Against Torture on the grounds that El Chapo’s sons and corrupt Mexican officials would conspire to have him killed. Such proceedings can take months to play out, with little transparency,” Vice News said Monday.

Meanwhile, his father, López Núñez – who studied law and was a prison director before turning to a life of crime – is in jail in the United States on trafficking charges.

With reports from El Universal, Animal Politico and Vice News

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