Sunday 18 August 2019

Mexican drug lord 'El Chapo' jailed for life by US court

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo, File)
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo, File)

Brendan Pierson and Jonathan Stempel

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the Mexican drug lord found guilty of running a murderous criminal enterprise that smuggled tons of drugs into the United States, was sentenced by a U.S. judge on Wednesday to spend the rest of his life in prison.

U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan imposed the sentence of life plus 30 years, which was mandatory under the law, at a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn.

Guzman, 62, was found guilty by a jury in February of trafficking tons 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 and most violent drug trafficking organizations.

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 is being held in solitary confinement in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a fortress-like jail in lower Manhattan. Cogan last month rejected his request for more time to exercise on the jail's roof, after prosecutors said that would risk an escape.

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.

Locked up: Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman is likely to be sent to the Colorado ‘Supermax’ prison. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Locked up: Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman is likely to be sent to the Colorado ‘Supermax’ prison. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Guzman made a name for himself as a trafficker in the 1980s by digging tunnels under the U.S.-Mexico border that allowed him to smuggle drugs more quickly than any of his rivals. He amassed power during the 1990s and 2000s through often bloody wars with rivals, eventually becoming the best-known leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.

His 11-week trial, which featured testimony from more than a dozen former associates of Guzman who had made deals to cooperate with prosecutors, offered the public an unprecedented look at the cartel's inner workings.

The witnesses, who included some of Guzman's top lieutenants, a communications engineer and a onetime mistress, described how he built a sophisticated organization reminiscent of a multinational corporation.

He sent drugs northward with fleets of planes and boats, and had detailed accounting ledgers and an encrypted electronic communication system run through secret computer servers in Canada, witnesses said.

In this undated photo provided by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman looks out the window of an airplane. Guzman, was convicted Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, of running an industrial-scale smuggling operation after a three-month trial packed with Hollywood-style tales of grisly killings, political payoffs, cocaine hidden in jalapeno cans, jewel-encrusted guns and a naked escape with his mistress through a tunnel. (United States Drug Enforcement Administration via AP)
In this undated photo provided by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman looks out the window of an airplane. Guzman, was convicted Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, of running an industrial-scale smuggling operation after a three-month trial packed with Hollywood-style tales of grisly killings, political payoffs, cocaine hidden in jalapeno cans, jewel-encrusted guns and a naked escape with his mistress through a tunnel. (United States Drug Enforcement Administration via AP)

U.S. prosecutors have claimed that Guzman sold more than $12 billion worth of drugs, and Forbes magazine once listed him as among the world's richest men.

Though other top cartel figures had been extradited to the United States before, Guzman was the first to go to trial rather than pleading guilty.

Guzman often lived on the run. Imprisoned in Mexico in 1993, he escaped in 2001 hidden in a laundry cart and spent the following years moving from one hideout to another in the mountains of Sinaloa, guarded by a private army.

He was seized again in 2014, but pulled off his best known escape the following year when he disappeared into a ventilated, mile-long (1.6-km) tunnel dug into his cell in a maximum-security prison.

Captured: Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman in custody in Mexico in 2016. Photo: Reuters
Captured: Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman in custody in Mexico in 2016. Photo: Reuters

He was finally recaptured in January 2016. The Mexican government says he blew his cover through a series of slipups, including an attempt to make a movie about his life.

Guzman's lawyers have said they intend to appeal his guilty verdict. They have already asked Cogan to overturn it, citing a report that jurors disobeyed court rules by reading news reports about the case during the trial, but the judge rejected that request.

Despite Guzman's downfall, the Sinaloa Cartel had the biggest U.S. distribution presence of Mexican cartels as of last year, followed by the fast-growing Jalisco New Generation Cartel, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Thumbs-up gesture: Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of Joaquin Guzman, departs after the trial in New York. Photo: Reuters
Thumbs-up gesture: Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of Joaquin Guzman, departs after the trial in New York. Photo: Reuters
Judge Brian Cogan, the presiding judge (Elizabeth Williams/AP)
Judge Brian Cogan, the presiding judge (Elizabeth Williams/AP)

Reuters

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News