Capturing El Chapo

A compelling story about how one of the most powerful drug dealers in Mexico was captured.

Guzmán had other weaknesses. “He loves the gourmet food,” a D.E.A. official told me. From time to time, he would be spotted at an elegant restaurant in Sinaloa or in a neighboring state. The choreography was always the same. Diners would be startled by a team of gunmen, who would politely but firmly demand their telephones, promising that they would be returned at the end of the evening. Chapo and his entourage would come in and feast on shrimp and steak, then thank the other diners for their forbearance, return the telephones, pick up the tab for everyone, and head off into the night.

Capturing El Chapo

Mexico’s fireworks captial

You title an article “Mexico’s Fireworks Capital” and you think I won’t read the hell out of it, you don’t know me. You don’t know me at all.

Two firemen lean against their truck at the edge of the plaza. One of them, Mario Noriega Varela, says it’s their busiest night of the year, with 300 to 500 injuries, but they enjoy it. For a public safety professional, Mario is remarkably relaxed about the whole affair. “Come back in a little while,” he tells me, “and photograph the wounded.”

Despite its inherent dangers, the business of fireworks is indispensable to the economy of Tultepec. Roughly 80 percent of the population is involved with fireworks production. Tultepec’s fireworks are sold across Mexico and Latin America, with the peak season stretching from Dia de Los Muertos in November through New Year’s. Sales to the U.S. are relatively limited, largely due to strict import regulations and the overwhelming dominance of the Chinese fireworks industry, which supplies, by some estimates, 99 percent of the U.S. consumer market. But many in Tultepec would like to change that.

Mexico’s fireworks captial

This week’s best crime stories

These are the types of stories I would read all day if I had time. Two fascinating crime pieces from this week.

Do quarter horses count as real horses? Never mind. Mexican drug cartels and horse racing.

The business was “so far out there it’s hard to believe,” said Morris Panner, a former prosecutor who handled drug cases. “Maybe they were using some kind of perverse logic that told them they could hide in plain sight, precisely because people wouldn’t believe it or question it.”

The Treviño brothers devised an elaborate scheme in which Mexican businessmen paid for the horses — some of them worth hundreds of thousands of dollars — from their own bank accounts so the purchases would appear legitimate, according to the affidavit. The Zetas would later reimburse the businessmen, and the horses’ ownership would be transferred to Tremor.The brothers’ activities on either side of the border made for a stark contrast. One week in May began with the authorities pointing fingers at Miguel Ángel Treviño for dumping the bodies of 49 people — without heads, hands or feet — in garbage bags along a busy highway in northern Mexico. The week concluded with José Treviño fielding four Tremor horses in a prestigious race at Los Alamitos Race Course, near Los Angeles.

Rudy Kurniawan’s counterfeiting of prestigious maybe have broken wine collecting forever. That he was able to pull it off for so long gives credence to the idea that most people can’t taste the difference between a $4 bottle of wine and a… say, $42,500 bottle of champagne. Alternate title for this story? The Talented Mr. Ripple.

On March 8 of this year, Kurniawan was arrested by F.B.I. agents at his home in Arcadia, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, and charged with multiple counts of wire and mail fraud, notably in connection with the attempted sale of the bogus Ponsots. According to court documents, when agents entered Kurniawan’s house, they discovered a counterfeiting factory, with scores of bottles being converted to knockoffs and thousands of fake labels for the most prestigious wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux. It appears now that Kurniawan may have sold millions of dollars’ worth of counterfeit wines and scammed some of the world’s biggest collectors. It is potentially the largest case of wine fraud in history and may have left the market for rare and old wines irredeemably corrupted.

Also, this spoke to me, because basically, these people moved from comic book speculation to wine speculation… And you know what comic books are worth now.

In 2000, wine auctions worldwide grossed $92 million; by last year, that figure had quintupled, to $478 million. The buying frenzy was driven in large part by young collectors in the United States.

This week’s best crime stories