New York: El Chapo – Drug Lord lawyers spent just 30 minutes presenting their client’s defense and argued that he was simply a scapegoat acting on someone else’s orders. But the jury convicted him on all 10 of the counts he faced after hearing testimonies from more than 50 witnesses.
Before his capture in 2016, Guzman twice escaped from high-security prisons, including using a specially constructed underground tunnel leading from his cell.
he man appeared to show just a few signs of life when he was brought in to the Mexican mountain hideout. He had been brought there from a nearby airstrip after being flown in by light aircraft.
He was bound, blindfolded and so badly burned by an iron that the fabric of his shirt stuck to the skin on his back.
Whats is Life Prison for El Chapo ???
The rest of his body was peppered with red, seeping burn marks, seared into his skin with a car lighter.
A short man with a full head of dark hair and a neatly trimmed mustache barked questions at him, but there was little response.
Within seconds, the short man’s fury raged: he was spitting expletives at the victim before him, before angrily gesturing towards a chicken coop where he ordered his men to dump the man in the sweltering heat.
Within days, the victim was dead; shot, thrown into a grave and then buried while still alive and gasping for breath.
Throughout his three-month trial, notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was portrayed as a man who didn’t hesitate to use ruthless violence to protect his business.
While he was not convicted of murder, several witnesses at his trial described how they were involved in killings at his behest or actually witnessed his involvement in them, like the one above.
Guzman was convicted by a court in New York of 10 counts of drug trafficking, firearms and money laundering charges. It marked the end of a worldwide hunt for a man who at one point had been the most wanted in the world.
Life in Mexico ???
During his 25-year leadership of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, he went from being a small-time marijuana smuggler to being the head of the “largest drug trafficking organization in the world… with thousands of members”.
It smuggled around 154 tonnes of cocaine into the US, as well as heroin and methamphetamine – earning Guzman and his associates $14bn (£11bn), US authorities said.
It took 54 witnesses, including more than a dozen former cartel members, to appear in court to see him convicted.
In the end, it was only after US government agents turned his communications chief and intercepted about 200 conversations between the cartel boss and his hired killers and corrupt Mexican officials, that they were able to get the evidence to bring him down.
During his reign, parts of Mexico were turned into a war zone as he fought rivals to expand his reach.
Joaquin Guzman, whose nickname El Chapo means “Shorty”, started his career as a small-time marijuana trafficker.
But, in the early years of his leadership of the Sinaloa cartel, which stretched from 1989 to 2014, Guzman hit on the idea of using Mexico as a stop-off point for Colombian cocaine on its way to the US.
His former pilot, Miguel Angel Martinez described how in the early 1990s, El Chapo – Drug Lord would import the class-A drug from South America with a fleet of 10 planes landing on a hidden airstrip.
Each aircraft was loaded with hundreds of kilos and, at the time, it was the largest ever shipment into the country.
In return, Martinez said, the cartel boss would sometimes receive as many as three cash-filled aircraft from the US in a single day, with each plane carrying “eight to 10 million dollars,” he said.
Martinez estimated that, between 1990 and 1993, Guzman imported 25 to 30 tons of cocaine into Mexico each year.
El Chapo – Drug Lord was in jail from 1993 to 2001. But after his escape, he moved his business up another notch by striking deals to expand his web of connections deep into American cities.
Another witness, Tirso Martinez Sanchez said that starting in 2000, he oversaw a Guzman scheme to transport cocaine all the way from Mexico to the New York City area by train using cooking oil tankers with secret compartments.
Another popular smuggling method involved stashing the drugs in containers hidden inside gas tankers filled with fuel.
US agents, meanwhile, told the court they had intercepted jalapeno cans containing cocaine and more than $1m in drug proceeds hidden in the paneling of a Ford Bronco used by Guzman’s brother.
He even used a homemade submarine, which was stopped by agents carrying 1.3 tonnes of cocaine off the coast of Costa Rica in 2010.
Jesus Zambada, the brother of the Sinaloa’s co-leader Ismael Zambada and a key Guzman lieutenant, said that as the cocaine was moved north, it became increasingly valuable.
One kilogram bought in Colombia for $3,000 would sell for$20,000 in Los Angeles, $25,000 in Chicago and $35,000 in New York City.
Federal prosecutors said Guzman also used a tunnel to speed drug deliveries to America, containing the kind of equipment that might be found in a car repair shop.
It was equipped with electric lights, an industrial-sized weighing scale and a hydraulic system to lift away flooring that was covered by a pool table.
Some of the cocaine that ended up in the US came from the Norte del Valle cartel, headed by trial witness Ramirez Abadia.
Abadia, who was eventually forced to flee to Brazil and change his entire appearance using surgery to his skull, jaw, eyes, lips, nose, and ears, estimated Guzman smuggled 400,000 kilos, ordered 150 killings and amassed a fortune so large that he forfeited $1bn after his arrest in 2007.
In the US, between 2005 and 2008, identical twin brothers from Chicago made a fortune by distributing 36 tonnes of cocaine worth $800m and 200kg of heroin, for the Mexican drug lord.
One of the brothers, prosecution witness Pedro Flores, told the trial how he was driving up a road to Guzman’s Sinaloa compound once, after earlier striking a deal, when he was startled to see a naked man, apparently being tortured.
El Chapo had connections to countries around the world
“He was tied to a tree with a chain,” he told the trial, adding that he never learned what happened to him.
But El Chapo – Drug Lord did not want to stop at the States. In one message intercepted by US authorities, he discussed setting up dummy corporations in Germany and Ecuador in order to export drugs “to Europe, to Canada, to Australia and to the United States,” with a former mistress known as “la Fiera”.
They also discussed the purchase in Belize of 700kg (1,540 pounds) of cocaine.
El Chapo trial heard that over the years he was in charge, bribes and payoffs were liberally handed out to officials and others in authority to ensure he was able to continue running his operation the way he wanted to.
Several of the figures who were alleged to have received bribes were at the very top of Mexico’s hierarchy.
Jesus Zambada claimed he personally made at least $6m in hidden payments to the former federal security chief, Genaro Garcia Luna, an allegation Mr. Garcia Luna described as “false”.
The witness also said, “a few million dollars” were paid in 2005 to Gabriel Regino, who worked in the administration of current Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador when he was mayor of Mexico City, something Mr. Regino “categorically” denied.
Among other bribes alleged to have been paid were:
- $10m was paid at least twice to mid-1980s Mexico City top law enforcement official Guillermo Gonzalez Calderoni, who was gunned down in a suspected hit in Texas in 2003.
- $300,000 a month was given to federal and local police, prosecutors, airport officials and authorities by Jesus Zambada, the brother of Guzman’s business partner Ismael Zambada.
- This included $100,000 in cash handed in 2004 to a military general into the state of Guerrero.
- Another $250,000 was paid to a ranking police officer when law enforcement was said to be close to catching Guzman, after which “the operation was aborted”.
Another witness, one of Guzman’s former business partners, Alex Cifuentes, went even further by claiming the cartel boss once paid $100m to former President Enrique Pena Nieto, something Mr. Pena Nieto also denied.
With so much money at stake, Guzman rose to the top by dealing quickly and decisively with anyone threatening his business.His associates, too, found themselves in danger.
Miguel Angel Martinez, who became so close to his boss that Guzman became the godfather of his son, ended up suffering four attempts on his life after he went to prison.
In jail in Mexico City, he was cornered in his cell by other prisoners and stabbed 15 times. He then endured a second knife attack and was stabbed again after inmates started trying to speculate about his shoe size. Finally, he survived a grenade attack shortly after a band began playing continuously outside his jail window a song which had lyrics that talked about living life to the fullest because “once you die, you can’t take anything with you” – a song said to be one of El Chapo’s favorites.
Jesus Zambada was told by his older brother Ismael that Guzman had ordered the killing of a competitor named Rodolfo Fuentes after Fuentes didn’t shake his hand.
Others who were assassinated, witnesses told the trial, were: A corrupt police commander in 2008 for telling people he was going to “finish off” Guzman and Ismael Zambada; another drug dealer in a hail of AK-47 bullets that nearly took his head off; and a police official who worked for a rival who was lured out of his house by Guzman’s henchmen who pretended they had his son.
One of Guzman’s trusted hitmen was said to have kept a soundproof “murder room” with a drain to speed up messy executions.
Edgar Galvan, a trial witness, said Jose Antonio “Jaguar” Marrufo’s slaughterhouse was “where he killed people”, the New York Post reported.
The most graphic descriptions were provided by Isaias Valdez Rios, who detailed the killing by Guzman at the start of this article. He also told how, on another occasion, two bound victims arrived by air before the crime lord took a branch and pummelled them with it until they looked “like rag dolls” and could not move because so many of their bones had been broken.
Guzman’s men were then told to light a fire and dig a hole before the victims – fear etched on their faces – were carried to the pyre. As the drug boss shouted at them: “F*** your mother!”, each was shot in the head and their bodies burned on the bonfire until no bones remained.
The gang’s hideout
All the while he was making fortunes from his intercontinental drug smuggling racket, Guzman and his gang were living in a heavily protected secret lair, well away from the eyes of the authorities.
Three rings of 50 guards encircled the temporary camp, which was made up of pine-wood huts, with tinted windows and satellite TVs.
A total standing army of up to 100 men armed with automatic weapons, bazookas, grenades, rocket launchers, and other guns was on duty to provide a constant security detail for Guzman wherever he went.
The drug kingpin himself had a diamond-encrusted pistol with his initials carved into the handle.
While hiding out, the court heard, Guzman would wake at noon on a typical day and make calls while strolling under the trees in his mountain hideaway.
But he changed the location of his camp regularly in case he was discovered, moving effortlessly between a network of safe houses.
In 2014, when US agents raided one of the safe houses, Guzman was forced to escape naked through a tunnel hidden beneath his bathtub.
It wasn’t the first time he had been forced to escape custody.
He broke out of jail eight years after being imprisoned in 1993 by hiding in a laundry bin and making it to the Mexican countryside.
As a military force closed in on him, his associates sent a helicopter to extract him and fly him to a semi-desert area of central Mexico before driving him to Mexico City.
Jesus Zambada described the surprise on his boss’s face when they paid off officials to arrange a motorcycle police escort as he reached the outskirts of the city.
Also forced to flee when Guzman escaped from the safe house in 2014 was one of the many women he was said to have kept as a lover.
Alex Cifuentes, a former close partner, said multiple “wives” visited Guzman when he was hiding in Sinaloa.
Another squeeze, former Mexican politician Lucero Sanchez Lopez, told jurors she had a romantic relationship with Guzman before he sent her to buy and ship marijuana.
“I didn’t want for him to mistrust me because I thought he could also hurt me,” she told the court.
The authorities caught up with Guzman in 2014. But, embarrassingly, he broke out of his prison cell through a mile-long tunnel in July 2015.
He was recaptured six months later and extradited to the US in January 2017; since November he has been on trial in Brooklyn.
Despite evidence about his numerous affairs, Guzman’s glamorous wife Emma Coronel attended throughout the trial.
She was accused at one point by the prosecution of trying to contact her husband, despite a ban. But the judge later said there was no evidence.
A witness said his wife played a key role in his infamous 2015 escape from prison, but no evidence against her has been presented.
There was much anticipation about whether Guzman would appear on the witness stand himself.
In recent years, he has courted publicity, seeking to make a movie about his life and giving an interview to actor Sean Penn for Rolling Stone magazine in 2015.
In the end, he decided not to testify.
Defense lawyers said he was either in prison or in hiding when prosecutors allege he oversaw the cartel and said Ismael Zambada was the actual boss.
The cartel today
Drug Lord – El Chapo defense claimed that the elder Zambada brother remains on the loose in Mexico because of bribes that “go up to the very top”.
The defense claimed the bribes include hundreds of millions of dollars paid to the current and former presidents of Mexico – something US District Judge Brian Cogan criticized them for, saying it was not an acceptable claim to make without evidence.
In El Chapo – Drug Lord home state, the government says it has contained his Sinaloa cartel.
During 2018, the first full year after Guzman was extradited to the US, the share of murders in the state of Sinaloa compared to the rest of Mexico fell to its lowest in 20 years.
While murders shot up by a third to more than 33,000 last year across the whole of Mexico, in Sinaloa they fell nearly a fifth to 1,072.
But the cartel is far from finished.
Mike Vigil, a former chief of international operations at the US Drug Enforcement Administration, said since Guzman’s arrest, Ismael Zambada has steadily consolidated the cartel’s power.
Like Guzman was, Zambada is still very much a wanted man.
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