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El Chapo Trial: Former Texas Drug Runner Details Cartel ‘Murder Houses’

Edgar Ivan Galván was a low-ranking worker for the Sinaloa Cartel, but his testimony shed light on the brutality that came at every level

December 3, 2018 - New York, New York, Estados Unidos - A view of a photographic reproduction of a drawing by Jane Rosenberg that shows Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman during a session of his trial at the Brooklyn South District court, in New York, United States, 03 December 2018. Colombian drug lord Juan Carlos Ramirez alias 'Chupeta' declared as a witness and affirmed that Mexico was invaded by Colombian coca planes in the 90's. (Credit Image: © Jane Rosenberg/EFE via ZUMA Press)

Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman is facing 17 counts, ranging from trafficking to murder conspiracy, in federal court.

Jane Rosenberg/EFE/ZUMA Press

Edgar Ivan Galván can trace the beginning of his troubles to the evenings he began to spend in nightclubs in Ciudad Juarez, in the wake of his divorce in 2003.

What started as a good time, partying and doing drugs with friends, turned into an ill-fated career as a drug trafficker and weapons smuggler, a 24-year federal prison sentence, and the unenviable position of having to testify against Joaquin “el Chapo” Guzmán, the alleged leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, and the man Galván claims was his boss’s boss’s boss.

Galván, 41, took the stand Monday to detail his cross-border dealings with a psychotically violent cartel henchman claiming to be Chapo’s man in Ciudad Juarez, the tip of the spear in the Sinaloa Cartel’s efforts in the mid-2000s to take by force the all-important smuggling routes belonging to Guzmán’s former allies, the Juarez Cartel.

Of all the cooperating witnesses who have flipped on their former boss in hopes of a reduced sentence and a chance to live under federal witness protection in the States, Galván was the farthest removed from Guzmán. He never met El Chapo, and only once heard the alleged kingpin’s voice, squawking over a colleague’s Nextel push-to-talk phone.

But whereas the high-ranking narcos who came before him could illustrate wider swaths of El Chapo’s alleged drug empire, Galván’s testimony offered a window into the unglamorous life of the cartel’s far-flung foot-soldiers.

Galván was no dimebag dealer, having been caught in Florida in 2005 with more than 500 pounds of weed. But unlike some of the preceding witnesses, who became fabulously wealthy before their various downfalls, Galván cut a somewhat pathetic figure, describing most of his illegal endeavors as ending up in farce.

The 41-year-old naturalized American citizen told jurors that prior to entangling himself with the cartel, he had worked at a grocery store and as a cab driver in El Paso, Texas. That all changed in 2003, when Galván got divorced, and started hanging out at nightclubs over the border in Ciudad Juarez. He said that’s where where he came into contact with drug-trade players, and soon started moving serious amounts of marijuana.

He took to hanging out in what he described as a “party house” that he and some friends rented in El Paso, and it was there that he met Antonio Marrufo, alias “Jaguar,” a trafficker who at that time was working for La Línea, a street gang that functions as the enforcement arm of the Juarez Cartel. At first their relationship was casual, social, and he described Jaguar as dressing poorly, like a hick from Mexican ranch country.

Several years later, in late 2008, Galván said he received a call from his old party buddy. Jaguar wanted him to come down to Juarez, he had a business proposal. By now, Jaguar was nattily dressed in brand-name duds, and more importantly was no longer with La Línea — that relationship soured when a top Línea gangster kidnapped Jaguar. Now, he told Galván, he was answering to a new boss. The Sinaloa Cartel was in the midst of an aggressive attempt to take over Juarez, and he wanted Jaguar to be the tip of the spear. And Jaguar told Galván he was looking for a trusty guy to operate safe houses on the American side of the border where he could store Sinaloa’s merchandise before sending it on to distribution networks in Chicago or Atlanta.

“He told me all the coke he got was from Chapo Guzmán,” Galván said.

Despite having been a narco for several years at that point, and despite his friendly relationship with Jaguar, Galván said the offer gave him pause. He had always known Jaguar was capable of violence — a pal had told him as much. But now, Jaguar revealed himself to be a cold-blooded killer, regaling poor Galván with tales of brutality, and even taking him to visit one of the cartel’s infamous murder houses, where a room was fitted with a white tile floor and a drain at the center, to streamline the process of cleaning up blood.

A man identified as ‘Ivan’, who worked for Edgar Galvan.
Credit: Manhattan US Attorney’s Office

“When we were driving, he would take me to places that I didn’t ask to go to,” Galván told jurors. “In that house, no noise came out if someone were to scream. That’s where he killed people.”

Still, Galván took the job.

“Jaguar is not the kind of person who asks you questions,” the mild-mannered divorcé said. “He gives orders.”

 

For a while, everything was coming up Edgar. Working with Jaguar, he helped stash and then ship about 250 kilos of cocaine over the next two years, along with a couple tons of marijuana. But there was a major catch: Galván wasn’t getting paid. His fear of the trigger-happy Jaguar had prevented him from discussing compensation, and Jaguar didn’t seem too concerned with bringing up the subject.

So when a colleague named Martín, who Galván had hired to run a stash house, was busted with 12 kilos of coke on him, Galván saw an opportunity, knowing there was another 50 kilos back at the stash house, which the cops had apparently not located. When Galván managed to retrieve the cocaine, Jaguar was so relieved that he didn’t mention that it had gone from 50 kilos to 48 kilos. In order to get paid, and to hire a lawyer for Martín, Galvan pilfered the other two kilos, flipping them to a narco he knew in El Paso.

“I didn’t tell the truth,” Galván admitted. “I was afraid of asking him for money. I was afraid of him.”

Galván said he faced another sticky situation during this time when Jaguar ordered him to murder a rival drug dealer named Freddy, who was hiding out in El Paso while his men slang drugs on turf that Jaguar wanted for his own. Galván said he was told to get his hands on a silenced pistol and whack the guy, but instead he hesitated. Galván was a pretty heavy drug trafficker, sure, but he wasn’t out for blood like his boss. Instead, Galván said, he ordered one of his own men to carry out the hit when he gave the word, but insisted he never planned to give the word.

“I’m not a murderer,” Galván told jurors. “I wasn’t going to give him the order to kill anybody.”

Lucky for Galván, he didn’t have to. About two weeks later, he got a call from Jaguar, who told him to murder Freddy immediately. Jaguar said he had encountered some of the rival’s men in a park in Juarez, and he was furious. But a short time later, he called back, cheerful as can be, and told Galván that he had run into Freddy and murdered him himself.

Another time, Jaguar asked Galván to go to the house of un viejito, an old man.

“Jaguar told me what I had to do,” he said. “He told me to kill the viejito.

In the end, however, Galván managed to stall, and the old man survived.

 

Moving drugs and dodging murder orders weren’t the only jobs Galván did for Jaguar. During the time they were working together, violence in Ciudad Juarez was reaching staggering levels, thanks in part to the war the El Chapo had launched there in an effort to take the city for his own. Jaguar and other Sinaloa-aligned sicarios were battling it out in broad daylight with gunmen in the employ of the Juarez Cartel, and to go head to head like that, they needed weapons.

Jaguar tasked Galván with coordinating shipments of weapons — or as Jaguar called them, juguetitos, or “little toys” — purchased in the United States, storing them at stash houses in El Paso, and waiting to Jaguar to get word from corrupt contacts in Mexican customs that it was safe to drive the guns across the border. According to Galván, he managed four successful gun shipments, mainly Kalashnikovs but also a .50-caliber sniper rifle and some ballistic vests.

The last shipment, however, hit a snag. For unspecified reasons, the load of AKs and vests languished at a safe house in El Paso for three weeks, leaving Galván a nervous wreck. Finally, he got the call from Jaguar. The guns could be moved.

Galván, who by then had remarried, was busy painting the interior of his new house when he got the call, and after sending his best friend to go pick up the guns, he decided to check on the stash house himself, as it was only about five minutes away. When he got there, however, the place was crawling with cops.

He called Jaguar to tell him the bad news, and his fearsome boss was “really pissed,” Galván said. Jaguar told Galván to find out who had ratted on them, and hung up.

“That was the last time I ever spoke with Jaguar,” Galván told jurors.

After that, things continued to go poorly for the Galván. He tried to stay in the drug game, but nothing seemed to work. “Everything I did went wrong,” he lamented in court. In February of 2011, the cops caught up with Galván, and he was arrested on drug-trafficking conspiracy and weapons conspiracy charges. After pleading guilty, he was shocked to be slapped with a sentence of 24 years in federal prison. His only hope now, he said, is that his cooperation against the alleged boss of his boss will win him a reduction in his sentence.

Under questioning from Guzmán’s defense team Tuesday morning, Galván revealed another motive for testifying: to redeem himself in the eyes of his daughter, who was just 13 when he was arrested and knew nothing of his criminal life until she turned 18.

“She found out who her dad was and she doesn’t speak to me anymore. In the future I want my daughter to know I did the right thing,” he said, choking back tears. “Tomorrow she will be proud of me.”

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