Mexican cartel kingpin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman found guilty in New York trial

Joaquin

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Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman arrives in New York in January 2017 after his extradition from Mexico.
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Reuters

  • The Mexican cartel chief Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was found guilty on Tuesday in federal court in New York City.
  • The verdict came after 11 weeks of testimony from high-profile cartel figures and law-enforcement officials.
  • The case revealed an array of sordid details about the Sinaloa cartel and Guzman himself.

After six days of deliberations, jurors in New York City returned a guilty verdict in the trial of the Sinaloa cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, finding him responsible for all counts of an indictment that included charges of drug trafficking, conspiracy, and use of firearms.

Guzman faces a mandatory minimum of life in prison. He’s due to be sentenced on June 25.

The verdict in federal court came after 11 weeks of arguments and testimony – just 30 minutes of it from the defense – that released a torrent of sensational accusations implicating nearly every level of Mexican law enforcement and politics, including the country’s current and former presidents, in criminal activity.

Read more: The rise and fall of Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, the world’s most ambitious drug lord

The narcos and law-enforcement officials who took the stand during the trial revealed a litany of sordid details about the Sinaloa cartel’s operations and the violent, decadent, and sometimes perverse proclivities of Guzman, 61, who is believed to have been the organization’s main leader for much of the past two decades.

Guzman being escorted by soldiers in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, during his extradition to the US.

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Guzman being escorted by soldiers in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, during his extradition to the US.
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Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office/Handout via REUTERS

The defense tried to cast Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who is seen as Guzman’s peer at the top of the cartel, as the organization’s mastermind.

Zambada has never been caught, but one of his sons, Vicente, testified against the capo he was once poised to succeed, revealing details about jailbreaks, massive smuggling schemes, and widespread corruption.

Read more: Mexican troops are in the streets to fight the drug war, and the country’s defense chief says legalization may be ‘a way out’

Another witness, Hildebrando Alexander Cifuentes Villa, a Colombian drug-trafficking scion, added to the tales of bribery, alleging that Guzman paid $100 million through an intermediary to President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose six-year term ended in December.

A representative for Peña Nieto denied the allegation, as did Peña Nieto’s immediate predecessor, Felipe Calderon, who was implicated alongside him during the trial’s opening arguments.

Cifuentes also told the court of Guzman’s cinematic aspirations, saying Guzman was interested in having a movie made about himself as early as 2007 – long before his mountain-hideout meeting with Sean Penn.

The Sinaloa cartel is not a hierarchical organization; at times its factions were at odds with one another. A constant backdrop to Guzman’s exploits was violence with partners as well as rivals.

Read more: Mexico supplies most of the US’s heroin, but prices are still falling – here’s how life is changing in Mexico’s heroin heartland

Guzman clashed with members of the Beltran Leyva family, whom he is related to, as well as the Arellano-Felix Organization and other former partners. Those fights helped push bloodshed in Mexico to record levels.

The case – particularly the government’s evidence – revealed Guzman’s paranoia. The kingpin used spyware against friends and enemies, listening in on the calls of lovers and associates. Some of those recordings were played in court, as the technician who set up Guzman’s eavesdropping system agreed to cooperate with the US, turning over calls and text messages.

The trial also revealed more about the person who is perhaps closest to Guzman: his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro.

Three decades younger than Guzman, Coronel is the mother of two of his children and has been a constant presence in the courtroom, even during testimony by her husband’s mistress. Guzman and Coronel appeared to revel in that moment, wearing matching outfits to court.

Coronel’s role in the cartel’s operations was also fleshed out.

Read more: After a year of record homicides, here’s what to expect from Mexico’s cartels in 2019

Damaso Lopez Nuñez, a Mexican security official who became Guzman’s right-hand man before clashing with Guzman’s sons for control of the cartel, testified that Coronel was the main intermediary during the planning of Guzman’s second jailbreak, carrying messages between the imprisoned cartel leader and plotters constructing a mile-long tunnel under his cell.

Coronel has never been charged with a crime, but her alleged complicity appeared to clarify some of the strict security procedures in place around Guzman.

She has not been able to contact Guzman while he’s been in US custody. At the beginning of the trial, the judge presiding over the case turned down a request to allow her and Guzman to hug in court.

The Federal Correctional Complex, including the Administrative Maximum Penitentiary, in Florence, Colorado.

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The Federal Correctional Complex, including the Administrative Maximum Penitentiary, in Florence, Colorado.
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Thomson Reuters

Guzman remains highly regarded on his home turf in Mexico – a reputation earned through a mix of intimidation and largesse. The cartel he helped build appears solidly in the hands of his sons and his erstwhile partner, Zambada, after months of fighting for control of it in the wake of his capture in 2016.

But in the US, Guzman faces a life sentence, which he is likely to spend at the maximum-security prison in Florence, Colorado, once described by a former warden as “much worse than death.”

Read more: More than 40,000 people have gone missing in Mexico’s drug war, and the government is trying new tactics to find them

Inmates in the Administrative Maximum Facility, or ADX, are highly segregated, but the prison holds a familiar face: Osiel Cardenas Guillen, the onetime leader of the Gulf cartel who was extradited to the US in 2007 and sentenced to 25 years in 2010. He cooperated throughout his time in custody and could be released as soon as 2025, before he turns 60.

The Gulf cartel cofounder Juan Garcia Abrego spent 20 years at ADX Florence before he was transferred to a high-security prison at the same facility in 2016.