On Tuesday a bill called the "EL CHAPO Act,” was introduced in Congress, proposing to earmark seized drug assets from incarcerated Mexican kingpin Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman to pay for President Donald Trump's unbudgeted border wall, which is estimated to cost upwards of $25 billion.
El Chapo, the former head of Mexico's monstrous Sinaloa Cartel, was extradited to the U.S. on Jan. 19 and awaits trial on 17 counts of international drug trafficking, weapons violations, and money-laundering.
"The estimates are that [El Chapo's] criminal fortune is roughly worth about $14 billion," Cruz said on Fox and Friends on Wednesday morning. "Coincidentally the estimates of the cost to build a wall range from $14 [billion] to $20 billion, so my legislation provides that if those assets are forfeited, those assets from El Chapo will go directly to building a wall and securing the border."
The couch crew at Fox and Friends gushed over Cruz's EL CHAPO Act, known formally as The Ensuring Lawful Collection of Hidden Assets to Provide Order Act. They called it "pure genius" and a great way to make Mexico "indirectly build the wall."
Wizened rocker and Trump cheerleader Ted Nugent also gave Cruz's plan an enthusiastic "celebrity" endorsement, calling it a "brilliant idea" that is " absolutely bulletproof."
But experts think Cruz's EL CHAPO Act is all acronym and no substance.
"It's complete b.s.," Mexican security analyst and former intelligence officer Alejandro Hope told Univision News. "It's just political grandstanding."
"It's incredibly ludicrous," adds Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and author of the book DEAL about the agency’s undercover operations.
Though Cruz is clearly trying to help the president come up with a plan—ANY PLAN— to fund his wall, his ill-conceived EL CHAPO Act is a bad look for the United States. Together with Trump's bizarre Hokey Pokey on NAFTA, where he first looked to be stepping out of the free-trade pact but then jumped back in, Republican policy towards Mexico is starting to look a bit like a Cantiflas routine.
"Trump and Cruz are drinking from the same kool-aid," says Vigil, who worked on the El Chapo case during his 13 years with the DEA in Mexico.
"This proposal by Ted Cruz is delusional and it basically shows he has no clue about how much money Chapo Guzman is worth,” added Vigil. “He doesn't have an understanding of money-laundering. He doesn't understand how drug lords and drug traffickers hide their money. And apart from that, Chapo Guzman is not worth $14 billion—that's an extraordinary high estimate."
In Cruz's defense, the $14 million figure comes from the U.S. Department of Justice. The U.S.' indictment against El Chapo seeks "forfeiture of more than $14 billion in drug proceeds and other illegal profits."
But here's the rub. That number is— at very best— a wild "guesstimate that has nothing to do with reality," says Vigil.
"It's basically invented—made up," Hope agrees.
That's because Chapo's finances are all off-the-books. The drug lord's alleged fortune is based on back-of-the-napkin estimates pertaining to global drug trade calculations over the past 30 years, plus intelligence gathered from other narcos whose information can oftentimes be tinged with narco-culture myth and legend.
Chapo's actual savings are probably closer to $1 billion, according to Vigil's own guesstimate. Mexico's Hope estimates that Chapo's net worth is probably measured in the "tens or hundreds of millions—but certainly not billions."
In any event, it's phantom money. Narco revenue is dirty cash that gets laundered overseas, buried in the desert, squirreled away behind drywall, used to grease the palms of state corruption, and invested in real estate under third party names that are not easily traceable to the source.
That's not even considering the sizeable daily expenditures of living as a narco—paying for henchmen, transportation logistics, tunneling equipment, Johnnie Walker Blue Label, mistresses, and entitled children (El Chapo had 18 kids).
Finally, none of El Chapo's illicit gains are sitting in a seized bank account or in blood-money escrow for Trump's border wall. Any of Chapo's assets that have been confiscated by the Mexican government aren't nearly enough to pay for even the first row of bricks in Trump's wall. Not that Mexico would be inclined to do so anyway.
So if Cruz is really serious about funding the wall with Mexican narco proceeds, he should buy a shovel and a plane ticket to Sinaloa and start digging in the desert.