The house is not much to look at. It’s a white building with a black fence, behind which the tops of some palm trees are visible. One floor, two bedrooms, a lounge, dining room and garage. “Seven minutes from the Culiacán park,” says the tired-looking government advertisement that has been trying to auction the house for years. The price: 3,830,000 pesos ($192,300, €163,500). And although neither the blurry photo nor its name – House in Culiacán – have so far not caught the attention of a potential buyer, the real interest of the property lies in the history these four walls have witnessed. It was in this house, on February 16, 2014, that the world’s biggest drug trafficker, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, dodged the Mexican armed forces. While a detachment of marines attempted to break down the reinforced door, the drug lord escaped with his lover through a secret passageway. For El Chapo, the real value of the house was hidden in the bathroom.
The Institute to Return Stolen Goods to the People (INDEP), an organization that already existed to auction off assets seized from criminal operations but changed its name under Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s drive to publicize his fight against corruption, has announced a new lottery in which it will offer dozens of properties, luxury items and even a VIP box at the Azteca Stadium in a one-off draw in Mexico’s National Lottery on September 15, the country’s Independence Day. Following the bizarre attempt to add the presidential plane to the National Lottery in 2020, which finally nobody won, the president will double down with a prize fund worth 250 million pesos (around €8.85 million, €10.5 million) in property, the majority of which was confiscated from drug traffickers and corrupt government officials.
For 250 pesos ($12.60, €10.60), a lucky ticket holder can win El Chapo’s house and sit on the sofa imagining, without the aid of Netflix, that they are in an episode of Narcos: Mexico. Another property with a less grisly history but more zeros on the price tag is also up for grabs: a huge mansion once owned by Amado Carrillo, the so-called “Lord of the Skies” who in the 1990s controlled the largest fleet of aircraft scattering cocaine on US runways, and who would host lavish parties at the property in the upmarket El Pedregal neighborhood in the south of Mexico City.
The house in Culiacán was the beginning of the end of the most feared man in Mexico’s criminal empire. After his first flight from justice in 2001, when he escaped from the Puente Grande penitentiary in Jalisco in a laundry basket according to the official version, El Chapo had spent 13 years in hiding. He always remained close to his roots in Sinaloa, watched over by his loyal friends and family and backed by the security of being at the head of the most powerful drug-trafficking organization in the world. The government of Mexico’s former president, Enrique Peña Nieto, launched a campaign to end El Chapo’s reign in early 2014. In February of the same year, the Mexican navy and the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) staged a joint operation to capture Mexico’s public enemy number one.
At that time, it was believed the El Chapo had penetrated most of the northern border. In Baja California, Sonora and Chihuahua alone, the DEA attributed around 100 major traffickers as belonging to El Chapo’s organization. But the authorities did not take the secret tunnel under the bathroom in Culiacán into account. While the Mexican marines were trying to get through the armored hydraulic door, El Chapo set the machinery of his escape in motion, pulling a lever that lifted the bathtub from the floor and slipping down a metal corridor that gave him access to the sewers. Like this property, seven others owned by El Chapo in Culiacán were connected by this subterranean network.
According to the El Universal newspaper, El Chapo was not alone. He fled with one of his lovers, Lucero Sánchez López, who became known from then on as “La Chapodiputada” (Chapo’s representative), as she had been a local government lawmaker in Sinaloa. The drug lord was eventually arrested a few days later, on February 22, 2014, at a hotel in Mazatlán, on the Sinaloa coast. At the time of his arrest, he was with his wife and twin daughters. It was 6.50am. Along with a pink suitcase, a bottle of shampoo and a pile of scattered clothes, one of the most powerful drug lords in the world had been captured. El Chapo managed to escape again in 2015, from a federal maximum-security prison in Almoloya de Juárez, again through a tunnel hidden in the shower area of his cell. He was recaptured in 2016 and extradited to the United States in 2017.
El Chapo’s adventures with Sánchez, who when elected became the youngest congresswoman in the history of Sinaloa, did not end in the Culiacán house. A year after El Chapo’s flight from the Almoloya jail – which dealt a blow to the credibility of Peña Nieto’s government – the official reconstruction of his last few days of freedom in 2015 states that he spent Christmas Eve with his wife Emma Coronel, a beauty queen and influencer who is currently awaiting sentence in the US on federal drug trafficking charges. A few days later, however, and with the entire force of the Mexican authorities seeking him out, he found time to spend New Year’s Eve with Sánchez.
A narco mansion and a box at the Azteca
The property previously owned by Amado Carrillo is one of the jewels in the lottery’s crown. Although Carrillo managed his drug-running operations from Ciudad Juárez, it is estimated he owned dozens of houses and mansions on both sides of the US-Mexico border. The one that is up for grabs in the September National Lottery draw is valued at 77,260,000 pesos (around $2.53 million, €3 million) and covers 3,000 square meters.
The property, which Carrillo acquired 20 years ago, also has a heated pool, nine bedrooms, a play house for children, saunas, jacuzzis and a wine cellar. The mansion belonging to the former boss of the Juárez cartel, who died in hospital in 1997 after a plastic surgery operation to alter his appearance, also has its own reception hall.
Another of the big prizes available in the lottery is a VIP box at Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium, home of Liga MX giant Club América and the Mexico national team. The box is valued at 20 million pesos (almost $840,000, €1 million) and the winner will have exclusive use of it until 2065. It was purchased by the government of former president Miguel de la Madrid in 1984 in the name of several directors of the National Lottery for the use of the Mexican leader and his friends. “Given it is not the remit of the National Lottery to buy VIP boxes for the use of government employees, and in line with the president’s stance against corruption, it has been decided this box will be added to the lottery,” said the current director-general of the Mexican National Lottery, Margarita González Saravia.
The Azteca Stadium box contains 20 seats, a private bathroom and kitchen, and also comes with four parking spaces. According to El Universal, it was in this corner of the famous stadium that Argentine soccer hero Diego Armando Maradona received the World Cup trophy from the hands of De La Madrid after Argentina won the 1986 tournament hosted in Mexico.
In total there are 22 properties included in the lottery, including houses, land and ranches in Acapulco, Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo, in Guerrero State; León and Silao in Guanajuato; Tlajomulco in Jalisco as well as Ensenada, Baja California and the Mexico City municipalities of Coyoacán and Benito Juárez. Mexican authorities have announced that “in the case the winning tickets were purchased by foreigners, they cannot claim the properties located in border areas, beaches or the country’s coasts, in line with the applicable legislation.” If a foreign ticket holder wins one of these properties, they will receive the cash equivalent of its value.
English version by Rob Train.