El Chapo Found Guilty on All Counts; Faces Life Imprisonment

The Mexican crime lord known as El Chapo was convicted on Tuesday after a three-month drug trial in New York that exposed the inner workings of his sprawling cartel, which over decades shipped tons of drugs into the United States and plagued Mexico with relentless bloodshed and corruption.

The guilty verdict against the kingpin, whose real name is Joaquín Guzmán Loera, ended the career of a legendary outlaw who also served as a dark folk hero in Mexico, notorious for his innovative smuggling tactics, his violence against competitors, his storied prison breaks and his nearly unstoppable ability to evade the Mexican authorities.

As Judge Brian M. Cogan read the jury’s charge sheet in open court — 10 straight guilty verdicts on all 10 counts of the indictment — Mr. Guzmán sat listening to a translator, looking stunned. When the reading of the verdict was complete, Mr. Guzmán leaned back to glance at his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, who flashed him a thumbs up with tears in her eyes.

The jury’s decision came more than a week after the panel started deliberations at the trial in Federal District Court in Brooklyn where prosecutors presented a mountain of evidence against the cartel leader, including testimony from 56 witnesses, 14 of whom once worked with Mr. Guzmán.

Mr. Guzmán now faces life in prison at his sentencing hearing, scheduled for June 25.

Here’s what’s next for El Chapo after he was found guilty.

Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, Richard P. Donoghue, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, called the guilty verdict a victory for law enforcement; for Mexico, where 100,000 people had died because of drug violence; and for families who had lost someone to the “black hole of addiction.”

“There are those who say the war on drugs is not worth fighting,” Mr. Donoghue added. “Those people are wrong.”

In their own news conference, Mr. Guzmán’s lawyers promised an appeal, saying they would focus on the extradition process that brought the kingpin to Brooklyn for trial and on the prosecution’s efforts to restrict their cross-examinations of witnesses. They said that Mr. Guzmán had expected the guilty verdict and was prepared for it.

“I’ve never faced a case with so many cooperating witnesses and so much evidence,” Jeffrey Lichtman, one of Mr. Guzmán’s lawyers, said. “We did all we could as defence lawyers.”

A. Eduardo Balarezo, another one of Mr. Guzmán’s lawyers, added about his client: “When he came here he was already presumed guilty by everyone, unfortunately. We weren’t just fighting evidence, we were fighting perception.”

Not long after the jury got the case on Feb. 4, Matthew G. Whitaker, the acting United States attorney general, stepped into the courtroom and shook hands with each of the trial prosecutors, wishing them good luck. Over the next several days, the jurors, appearing to scrutinize the government’s evidence, asked to be given thousands of pages of testimony, including — in an unusual move — the full testimonies of six different prosecution witnesses.

Mr. Guzmán’s trial, which took place under intense media scrutiny and tight security from bomb-sniffing dogs, police snipers and federal marshals with radiation sensors, was the first time an American jury heard details about the financing, logistics and bloody history of one of the drug cartels that have long pumped huge amounts of heroin, cocaine, marijuana and synthetic drugs like fentanyl into the United States, earning traffickers billions of dollars.

But despite extensive testimony about private jets filled with cash, bodies burned in bonfires and shocking evidence that Mr. Guzmán and his men often drugged and raped young girls, the case also revealed the operatic, even absurd, nature of cartel culture. It featured accounts of traffickers taking target practice with a bazooka, a mariachi playing all night outside a jail cell and a murder plot involving a cyanide-laced arepa.

At times, the trial was so bizarre it felt like a drug-world telenovela unfolding live in the courtroom. Last month, one of Mr. Guzmán’s mistresses tearfully proclaimed her love for him even as she testified against him. The following day, in what seemed like a coordinated show of solidarity, the kingpin and his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, appeared in court in matching red velvet smoking jackets.

Toward the end of the proceeding, Alejandro Edda, an actor who plays El Chapo on the Netflix series “Narcos: Mexico,” showed up at the trial to study Mr. Guzmán. The crime lord flashed an ecstatic smile when told Mr. Edda had come to see him.

Although Tuesday’s conviction dealt a blow to the Sinaloa drug cartel, which Mr. Guzmán, 61, helped to run for decades, the group continues to operate, led in part by the kingpin’s sons. In 2016 and 2017, the years when Mr. Guzmán was arrested for a final time and sent for a prosecution to New York, Mexican heroin production increased by 37 percent and fentanyl seizures at the southwest border more than doubled, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The D.E.A., in its most recent assessment of the drug trade, noted that Mr. Guzmán’s organization and a rising power, the Jalisco New Generation cartel, “remain the greatest criminal drug threat” to the United States.

Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, known as El Chapo, was surrounded by media after the verdict on Tuesday. PHOTO CREDIT: New York Times

The Mexican authorities began pursuing the stocky crime lord — whose nickname translates roughly to “Shorty” — in 1993 when he was blamed for a killing that epitomized for many Mexicans the extreme violence of the country’s drug wars: the assassination of the Roman Catholic Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo at the Guadalajara airport.

Though Mr. Guzmán was convicted that same year on charges of murdering the cardinal, he escaped from prison in 2001 — in a laundry cart pushed by a jailhouse janitor — and spent the next decade either on the lam in one of his mountain hide-outs or slipping through various police and military dragnets.

In 2012, he evaded capture by the F.B.I. and the Mexican federal police by ducking out the back door of his oceanview mansion in Los Cabos into a patch of thorn bushes. Two years later, after he was recaptured in a hotel in Mazatlán by the D.E.A. and the Mexican marines, he escaped from prison again — this time, through a lighted, ventilated, mile-long tunnel dug into the shower of his cell.

But following his last arrest — after a gunfight in Los Mochis, Mexico, in 2016 — Mr. Guzmán was extradited to Brooklyn, where federal prosecutors had initially indicted him in 2009. He also faced indictment in six other American judicial districts.

The top charge of the Brooklyn indictment named Mr. Guzmán as a principal leader of a “continuing criminal enterprise” to purchase drugs from suppliers in Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Mexico’s Golden Triangle — an area including the states of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua where most of the country’s heroin and marijuana are produced.

It also accused him of earning a jaw-dropping $14 billion during his career by smuggling up to 200 tons of drugs across the United States border in an array of yachts, speedboats, long-range fishing boats, airplanes, cargo trains, semi-submersible submarines, tractor-trailers filled with frozen meat and cans of jalapeños and yet another tunnel (hidden under a pool table in Agua Prieta, Mexico.)

The prosecution was years in the making and Mr. Guzmán’s trial drew upon investigative work by the F.B.I., the D.E.A., the United States Coast Guard, Homeland Security Investigations and federal prosecutors in Chicago, Miami, San Diego, Washington, New York and El Paso. The trial team also relied on scores of local American police officers and the authorities in Ecuador, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

The evidence presented at the trial included dozens of surveillance photos, three sets of detailed drug ledgers, several of the defendant’s handwritten letters and hundreds of his most intimate — and incriminating — phone calls and text messages intercepted through four separate wiretap operations.

Prosecutors used all of this to trace Mr. Guzmán’s 30-year rise from a young, ambitious trafficker with a knack for speedy smuggling to a billionaire narco lord with an entourage of maids and secretaries, a portfolio of vacation homes — even a ranch with a personal zoo.

Andrea Goldbarg, an assistant United States attorney, called the prosecution’s case “an avalanche” during the government’s summations. Even with the help of a PowerPoint presentation, complete with a slide show of photos of the kingpin, Ms. Goldbarg took almost an entire day to lead the jury through it.

But the centerpiece of the government’s offering was testimony from a Shakespearean cast of cooperating witnesses who took the stand to spill the deepest secrets of Mr. Guzmán’s personal and professional lives.

Among the witnesses were the kingpin’s first employee; one of his personal secretaries; his chief Colombian cocaine supplier; the son of his closest partner and heir apparent to his empire; his I.T. expert; his top American distributor; a killer in his army of assassins; even the young mistress with whom he escaped from the Mexican marines, naked, through a tunnel that was hidden under a bathtub in his safe house.

Confronting this onslaught, Mr. Guzmán’s lawyers offered little in the way of an affirmative defence, opting instead to use cross-examination to attack the credibility of the witnesses, most of whom were seasoned criminals with their own long histories of lying, cheating, drug dealing and killing.

Late last month, there was frenzied speculation that Mr. Guzmán might testify in his own defence. But after he decided against doing so, the entire defense case lasted only 30 minutes — compared with 10 weeks for the prosecution — and consisted of a single witness and a stipulation read into the record.

In his closing argument, Mr. Lichtman, one of the defense lawyers, reprised a theme he first introduced during his opening statement in November, telling jurors that the real mastermind of the cartel was Mr. Guzmán’s closest partner, Ismael Zambada García.

Despite being sought by the police in Mexico for nearly 50 years, Mr. Zambada, known as El Mayo, has never been arrested. Mr. Lichtman said the reason was that Mr. Zambada had bribed virtually the entire Mexican government. Mr. Guzmán was mere “the rabbit” that the authorities chased for decades, deflecting attention from his partner, Mr. Lichtman said.

Witness after witness took the stand at the trial and talked about paying off nearly every level of the Mexican police, military and political establishment — including the shocking allegation that Mr. Guzmán gave a $100 million bribe to the country’s former president, Enrique Peña Nieto, in the run-up to Mexico’s 2012 elections.

There was also testimony that bribes were paid to Genaro García Luna, one of Mexico’s top former law enforcement officers, a host of Mexican generals and police officials, and almost the entire Congress of Colombia.

“One of the important things about this conviction is that it sends a resounding message,” Ángel Meléndez, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations, said of other drug traffickers. “You’re not unreachable, you’re not untouchable and your day will come.”

Source :

nytimes