José Rodrigo Aréchiga Gamboa
As one of the leaders of Los Antrax, an armed group of the Sinaloa cartel, José Rodrigo Aréchiga Gamboa, known by his nickname Chino Antrax, led one of the most bloodthirsty hit squads to emerge from the Mexican drug war. From 2008 until his arrest in 2014, El Chino was a powerful drug lord close to the Zambada family.
His downfall came when he was apprehended in the Netherlands under a false name, and soon came to the attention of US law enforcement. During his incarceration and trial, Chino Antrax made powerful enemies among his former employers, that would lead to the death of family members and eventually seal his fate.
Born in Culiacán, Sinaloa, on June 15, 1980, José Rodrigo Aréchiga Gamboa, who was often referred to by his alias ‘El Chino Ántrax’, began working for the Sinaloa Cartel which had dominated the region for decades. Starting his career as a low level member, he soon gained the cartel’s attention.
El Chino soon rose to the position of bodyguard for Vicente Zambada Niebla, known as “El Vicentillo”, who is the son of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, a powerful drug lord who led one of the larger factions that made up the Sinaloa Cartel, or the Sinaloa Federation as it was sometimes referred to.
By 2008, the Sinaloa Cartel had fractured, and the Beltran-Leyva brothers formed a break-away faction that was soon in direct competition and the main rivals of their former allies. Soon both sides were undertaking assassinations and retaliatory killings.
That same year saw the emergence of a new sub-group within the Sinaloa Cartel. In an effort to protect his family against the threat of the Beltran-Leyvas and ultra-violent cartel known as Los Zetas, Mayo Zambada ordered the formation of “Los Antrax”, named after the virulent Anthrax bacterium.
Formed of sicarios, the group would act as enforcers and bodyguards to the Zambada family, protecting his daughters and sons from outside threats. Los Antrax would also act as hitmen, performing contract killings on behalf of the Cartel, murdering rivals and those considered a threat from within the organization.
The group was initially led by Alfredo Vizcarra Vega “El Fello Antrax”, who was given the codename “El 1”. Underneath him were several others men placed in leadership positions. Among these were Zambada’s nephew, Eliseo Imperial Castro “El Cheyo” was designated “El 2”, and René Velázquez Valenzuela “El 3”, who was made the chief of sicarios, overseeing the trained killers of the unit.
Other command positions were taken by Francisco Arce Rubio “Pancho Arce/El 4” and José Rodrigo Aréchiga Gamboa “El Chino/El 5”. On February 25, 2008, a group of gunmen led by René Velázquez Valenzuela, known to his men as “El Taliban” and “El Sargento Phoenix”, became involved in a shootout with the Mexican Army in Culiacan.
After attempting to escape the scene, Velázquez was arrested along other Los Antrax members. It was later revealed that Velázquez had opened fire on the Army unit in an effort to distract them and allow “El Chino Antrax” to escape the scene.
It is unknown if Chino Antrax was placed higher within the groups hierarchy than Velázquez, however it is possible that due to his friendship with Serafín, one of Zambada’s sons, that he was given more power within Los Antrax. This might be evidenced by the fact that after Vizcarra Vega’s death on November 4, 2008, command of Los Antrax was Rodrigo Aréchiga Gamboa “El Chino Antrax”.
The Social Media Star
With his rise through the ranks of Los Antrax, El Chino started to share his life online through his various social media accounts. He soon became part of a younger generation of Mexican drug traffickers who enjoyed displaying online the wealth and power of their luxurious lifestyles.
He often uploaded pictures of his sports cars, weapons, jewelry, money, yachts and extravagant parties he would hold with famous narcocorrido bands in attendance. Chino Antrax has several narcocorrido ballads about him, some of which describe him as an “elegant and fit man” who enjoys his luxuries.
He used a variety of online aliases, including El Comandante Ántrax “Commander Anthrax”, Scarface Renacido “Reborn Scarface”, El Oriental “The Oriental”, “R-57” and El Quinto Elemento “The Fifth Element” among others. On Facebook and Twitter accounts he used @comandante57_, and on Instagram he was known by the username miauuuu5_7 and jamesbond5_7.
On these social media accounts he raffled to his followers a variety of items, including cell phones, expensive cars, sunglasses, and other gifts. In attempt to show off his muscular physique, he would frequently appear on his Instagram feed sporting protein intakes, and sharing his workout routines.
He also uploaded pictures of his many trips abroad, such as holidays in Europe, Japan, the Middle East, Las Vegas and parts of Africa. In one image he appears alongside well-known heiress Paris Hilton, in others he can he seen sat next to Ismael Zambada Imperial, alias “El Mayito Gordo”, a son of “El Mayo” Zambada.
Despite his prolific use of social media, Chino Antrax always blurred his face in the pictures he uploaded, however in most of them he could be seen wearing the skull shaped diamond ring, given to members of the hit squad he led, which was a reference to Los Ántrax, and acted as a form of signature identification.
Although he was careful and discreet in blurring his face from images, it would not stop US law enforcement from being able to track him, thanks in part to his habit of posting photos. From his accounts, they learned that he liked to travel across the world, and this led to an intense hunt for the elusive drug lord.
The Beginning of the End of Los Antrax
During his tenure as leader of Los Antrax, El Chino led the hit squad in the Sinaloa Cartels war against the Juarez Cartel, that saw thousands of murders, from cartel gunmen to innocents caught in the crossfire. By 2011, the conflict was all but over, however conflict continued between the two sides.
By September 2011, the extinct Juarez Cartel announced its return through Narcomantas and cartulinas that were displayed throughout Chihauhau. La Linea, the armed wing of the Juarez Cartel, made up of current and former Chihauhau state police officers and hitmen, continued the battle for control of the city against the Sinaloa Cartel.
Los Antrax were involved in numerous conflicts with opposing and rival drug gangs, and as a result suffered many casualties. On October 31, 2011, Francisco Arce Rubio “Pancho Arce/El 4/El Arista”, who was a ranking member of Los Antrax, was shot to death by gunmen of the Beltran-Leyva Cartel, who opened fire on Pancho while he played at a football game, killing the Antrax leader with AK-47 machineguns.
Further deaths occurred into the following year, when in February 2012, an armed confrontation between two groups of gunmen resulted in the death of five men, one of whom was identified as “Roque Antrax”, a member of the Antrax group of sicarios that worked under Mayo Zambada.
The group suffered further setbacks when several members of Los Antrax, including Jose Miguel Aramo Montoya “El Monki” and Rafael Guadalupe Felix Nunez “El Changuito Antrax/El 6/Rafa”, members of Los Antrax were arrested on April 16, 2013 by municipal police during a raid in the south of Culiacan.
On January 3, 2014, it was announced that the Netherlands Ministry of Security and Justice in co-operation with the Mexican Embassy in the country that Dutch police had arrested a 33-year-old Mexican citizen as he arrived from Latin America to the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
The man entered the country using a false name on December 30, 2013, and although his identity was not revealed by the Dutch authorities, an anonymous U.S. federal agent and local Mexican newspapers leaked to the media that the man was in fact José Rodrigo Aréchiga Gamboa “El Chino Antrax/El R/El 5”, one of the founders and leaders of Los Antrax and plaza chief of Culiacan.
His capture was confirmed by the U.S. Government, who allege that Aréchiga Gamboa had travelled under the assumed name of Norberto Sicairos Garcia at the time of his arrest, and had in his possession three airplane tickets, an iPhone 5, a Blackberry Bold, credit cards from Visa and MasterCard from Banamex, along with a Mexican driver’s license. At the time of his arrest, he was wearing his silver skull ring, signifying his membership of Los Antrax.
It was also revealed by U.S. Law enforcement that the drug lord had undergone plastic surgery in an attempt to conceal his identity, and even gone so far as to alter his fingerprints. His identification was determined through the use of unspecified forensic methods.
He was sent to the Vught maximum-security prison, and later appeared before a judge on January 2nd, where it was confirmed he had been apprehended at the request of the U.S. Government, who had contacted Interpol for assistance in tracking and arresting Aréchiga Gamboa.
He was wanted on charges relating to drug trafficking huge quantities of narcotics into the United States from across the border in Mexico. Extradition proceedings were initiated to bring the suspect to trial in the United States, where he was sanctioned under the Kingpin Act by the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Court documents allege that Aréchiga Gamboa had worked as a bodyguard drug lord Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, coordinated logistics and drug transportations for Joaqin “El Chapo” Guzman, and had worked alongside Sinaloa enforcer Gonzalo Inzunza Inzunza, who had himself been killed prior to Gamboa’s arrest.
Sometime in 2014, several drug gangs affiliated with the Sinaloa Cartel were dismantled by law enforcement in California. Unknown to his former associates, Chino Antrax began cooperating with investigators, who had revealed inside information on the inner workings of the Zambada faction of the cartel.
During this same time, Serafin “Sera” Zambada Ortiz, one of El Mayo’s sons had been arrested as part of an intelligence operation codenamed Narco Polo. Another of Zambada’s sons, Vincente Zambada Niebla “El Vincentillo” had already been revealing cartel secrets to the authorities in exchange for a lighter sentence.
In May 2014, while Chino Antrax languished in a Dutch jail, one of his many partners, Yuriana Castillo Torres was snatched by a group of armed men when leaving the Extreme Fitness Gym at a square located by Rotrismo Boulevard, in the Tres Rios development in Culiacan on May 6th.
Castillo Torres, who has a young son with Aréchiga Gamboa, was taken by surprised as she was entering her white Jeep Cherokee by armed individuals who forced to her submit, and when she resisted, she was struck by a blow to the head and bundled into a white van, leaving only her shoe remaining.
Less than 24 hours after her abduction, a vehicle stopped in front of a vacant lot by the Paseo de las Palmas boulevard, in the colonia Lomas de Guadalupe, and two men threw a bundle wrapped in white sheets and tied with cord. Believed by residents to be trash, it turned out to be the body of Castillo Torres.
Her hands and feet had been tied with electrical cable, and it was determined she had been tortured and had received several blows to the head and had died from asphyxiation by strangling. Her funeral was attended by members of Los Antrax and high ranking members of the Sinaloa cartel.
There were rumours that the abduction of Castillo Torres had been a mistake and had been botched by the killer who were meant to snatch someone else. The real target is believed to have been a woman described as “La Emperatriz de Los Ántrax”, who bore a striking resemblance to the dead woman.
In June 2014, it was reported that “La Emperatriz de Los Ántrax”, or Boss Lady of the Los Antrax, was a former girlfriend of Chino Antrax. Identified as 27-year-old Claudia Ochoa Felix, it was claimed she was a high ranking member of Los Antrax.
José Rodrigo Aréchiga Gamboa “El Chino Antrax” pleaded guilty on March 20, 2015 to participating in transporting cocaine and marijuana shipments from Mexico to the U.S., as well as facilitating violent activities on behalf of the Sinaloa cartel.
It was believed he was cooperating with Mexican and U.S. law enforcement and providing information on his former cartel associates. Aréchiga Gamboa was implicated in the case of Serafin Zambada Ortiz “El Sera”, the son of El Mayo who was facing a sentence of 10 years to life in prison for his role in his father’s drug empire.
After spending upto to six years in custody in the United States, Chino Antrax was sentenced to seven years and three months in US federal prison. This lenient sentence would have been more, however he was known to have cooperated fully with American investigators, and received this sentence in accordance with his help in the apprehension of other cartel members.
Death of the Narco Prince
On March 3, 2020, Chino Antrax was released and placed under house arrest in Mexico. Some two months later, on May 9, his probation officer reported him missing. On the night of May 15, at 11:00pm, the blast from automatic weapons rocked the neighborhood of Guadalupe Victoria, scaring the residents into staying inside their locked homes.
After an intense gunfight, that lasted throughout the night, three people, a woman and two men, were bundled into a waiting vehicle by armed gunmen. Several minutes later, the municipal police finally arrived on the scene and surveyed the damaged front door, with dozens of bullet holes from the heavy weaponry of the unknown gunmen.
What the police were later to learn was that the gunfight had been the result of a Sinaloa Cartel hit squad that arrived and was repelled by Chino Antrax and those inside the property. When he run out of ammunition, he and the others were taken hostage by the gunmen.
The following day, police in the town of Ayune, Sinaloa, came across a black SUV containing the bodies of three people. These were identified as 39-year-old José Rodrigo Aréchiga Gamboa, his sister Ada Jimena Aréchiga and brother-in-law Juan Garcia.
All three had been shot and their bodies were wrapped in cloth, with black plastic bags over their heads. It is strongly believed the murder of Chino Antrax was not the result of retaliation from a rival gang, but had been ordered by the leadership of the Sinaloa cartel, because of his cooperation with law enforcement.
What remains of Los Antrax after the murder of Chino Antrax is unclear. The group is still active, however it is likely it’s strength is severely diminished, with few of the original leadership left alive or not incarcerated. It is possible the group continues to act as a bodyguard unit for the Zambada family, the sole reason for its existence.