Saturday 24 August 2019

End of the line for 'El Chapo'

Drug lord accused of 'overwhelming evil' as he's sentenced to life

On patrol: Armed officers stand outside the court room where Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman was sentenced. Photo: Getty
On patrol: Armed officers stand outside the court room where Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman was sentenced. Photo: Getty

Brendan Pierson and Jonathan Stempel

Joaquin Guzman, the Mexican drug lord who twice escaped maximum-security prisons in that country, will spend the rest of his life in a US jail, a federal judge said yesterday after accusing him of "overwhelming evil".

Guzman (62), known as 'El Chapo', berated the US justice system before US District Judge Brian Cogan imposed the mandatory sentence of life plus 30 years. Judge Cogan also ordered him to forfeit $12.6bn in a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn.

The judge said even if the law had allowed him any leeway, he would have imposed the harshest sentence available, adding that any redeeming qualities Guzman might have were erased by his "overwhelming evil" actions.

A jury in February convicted Guzman of trafficking tonnes of cocaine, heroin and marijuana and engaging in multiple murder conspiracies as a top leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, long known as one of Mexico's largest, most violent drug trafficking organisations.

Guzman, whose nickname means 'Shorty', developed a reputation as a Robin Hood-like figure that made him a folk hero to many in his home state of Sinaloa, where he was born in a poor mountain village. He has been held in solitary confinement in the Metropolitan Correctional Centre, a fortress-like jail in Manhattan. Judge Cogan last month rejected Guzman's request for more time to exercise on the jail's roof, after prosecutors said that would risk an escape.

Guzman, who recently grew a moustache, complained about the terms of his confinement before his sentence was handed down.

Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman. Photo: Getty
Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman. Photo: Getty

"It has been psychological, emotional, mental torture 24 hours a day," said Guzman. He alleged that the jurors on his case allowed media accounts of the trial to influence their thinking - an argument his lawyers also made.

"Since the government of the United States is going to send me to a prison where my name will not ever be heard again, I take advantage of this opportunity to say there was no justice here," he told the court.

Before he was finally captured in 2016, Guzman twice escaped maximum-security prisons in Mexico. He was extradited to the United States to face trial in January 2017.

"Never again will Guzman pour poison over our border, making billions while innocent lives are lost to drug violence and addiction," US attorney Richard Donoghue said outside the Brooklyn courthouse. "We can ensure that he spends every minute of every day of the rest of his life in prison." Guzman made a name for himself as a trafficker in the 1980s by digging tunnels under the US-Mexico border that allowed him to smuggle drugs more quickly than his rivals. He amassed power during the 1990s and 2000s through often-bloody wars with rivals, eventually becoming the Sinaloa Cartel's best-known leader.

Wife Emma Coronel Aispuro. Photo: Reuters
Wife Emma Coronel Aispuro. Photo: Reuters

His 11-week trial, which featured testimony from more than a dozen former associates who had made deals to co-operate with prosecutors, offered an unprecedented look at the cartel's inner workings. Andrea Velez, a former associate of Guzman, said yesterday that Guzman had paid the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang $1m (€890,000) to have her killed, and that she had escaped with the help of US authorities. "I confess that I sinned, but I paid a high price for my faults," Velez said of her work with the cartel.

Trial witnesses, who included some of Guzman's top lieutenants, a communications engineer and a one-time mistress, described how he built a sophisticated organisation resembling a multinational corporation.

Following the sentencing, Guzman's attorney said he was not certain which prison his client would be sent to, but presumed it would be the ADX Florence Supermax in Colorado, nicknamed the "Alcatraz of the Rockies".

Irish Independent

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