Emma Coronel Aispuro, center, the wife of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, comes to the federal district court in New York, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. A jury is deliberating in the AMERICAN trial of the notorious Mexican drug lord. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
NEW YORK – Mexico’s most notorious drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, was convicted Tuesday of running an industrial scale smuggling operation after a three-month trial filled with Hollywood-style stories of grisly murders, political payouts, cocaine hidden in jalapeno cans, jewel-encrusted weapons, and a bare escape with his mistress through a tunnel.
Guzman faces a drumbeat of the drug trade, and a conspiracy conviction that the 61-year-old escape artist behind the bars for decades in a maximum-security prison of the V. S. selected to thwart another one of the brainstorming sessions that made him a hero of the people in his own country.
New York judges whose identities were kept secret reached a verdict after deliberating for six days in the sprawling case, sorting by means of what authorities called an “avalanche” of evidence that has been gathered since the late 1980’s, that Guzman and his murderous drug cartel Sinaloa made billions in profits by smuggling of tons of cocaine, heroin, meth and marijuana to the US.
If the judge read the verdict, Guzman stared at the jury straight faced. When the jury was dismissed, he leaned back in his chair to catch the eye of his wife, who gave him a subtle thumbs-up.
U. S. District Judge Brian Cogan called the jury the meticulous attention to detail and the “remarkable” the approach it took in the direction of the discussions. Cogan said he is “very proud to be an American.”
Evidence showed the drugs poured into the US through secret tunnels or hidden in transport trucks, hidden in the chassis of passenger cars and packed in rail cars through legitimate points of entry, which suggests that a wall would not be much of a worry.
The prosecution’s case against Guzman, approximately 5½-foot figure whose nickname means “Shorty,” the testimony of various turncoats and other witnesses. Among them were Guzman former Sinaloa lieutenants, a computer encryption expert and a Colombian cocaine supplier, who underwent extreme plastic surgery to disguise his appearance.
A Sinaloa insider described Mexican workers get in contact with peaks during the package of cocaine to thousands of jalapeno cans — shipments for a total of 25 to 30 tonnes of cocaine with a value of $500 million per year. Another testified how Guzman sometimes acted as his own sicario, or hitman, the penalties of a Sinaloan who dared to work for another cartel by kidnapping him, beating and shooting him and his men to bury the victim, while he was still alive, gasping for air.
The defense case lasted a half hour. Guzman’s lawyers did not deny his crimes, as many argue he was a fall guy for the government’s witnesses who are more evil than he was.
Lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman urged the jury in closing arguments not to believe government witnesses who “lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs and kill people.”
On Tuesday, Lichtman, called the conviction “devastating”, but he said that he was proud that the defense “left on the battlefield.”
The deliberations were complicated by the trial, is the vast scope. Jurors were tasked with making 53 decisions on whether prosecutors have proven the different elements of the case.
The trial cast a harsh glare on the corruption which the cartel to flourish. Colombian trafficker Alex Cifuentes caused a stir by testifying that the former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto took a 100 million dollar bribe from de Guzman. Peña Nieto refused, but the assertion fits with a theme: politicians, army commanders, the police and the prosecutor, all on the take.
The tension was sometimes cut by a number of the trial is sideshows, such as the eyes of Guzman and his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, shown in matching burgundy velvet jackets in a gesture of solidarity. Another day, Chapo-size actor who played the role of the kingpin in the TV series “Narcos: Mexico” came to watch, told reporters that the sight of the suspicious flash him a smile “surreal.”
During the trial, was dominated by the Guzman persona as an almost mythical outlaw that a diamond-encrusted gun, and remained a step ahead of the law, the jury never heard of Guzman himself, except when he told the court that he not testify.
But his sing-songy voice filled the courtroom, thanks to the recordings of the intercepted telephone calls. “Amigo!” he said to a cartel distributor in Chicago. “Here at your service.”
One of the trial’s most memorable stories came from friend Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez Lopez, who testified she was in bed in a safe house with an on-the-run-Guzman, in 2014, when Mexican marines began with breaking down his door. She said Guzman led her to a trap under a bathtub that opened up to a tunnel that allowed them to escape.
Asked what he was wearing, she replied: “He was naked. He also took an active. He left us behind.”
The defendant had previously escaped from prison by hiding in a laundry bin in 2001. He then got an escort of crooked police in Mexico City, before retiring to one of the many mountain shelters. In 2014, he pulled out of another jail break, to escape by means of a mile-long lighted tunnel on a motorcycle on the track.
Even when Guzman was recaptured in 2016 for his extradition to the United States, he was plotting another escape, prosecutor Andrea Goldbarg said in closing arguments.
“Why? Because he is guilty and he never wanted to be in a position where he would have to answer for his crimes,” she told the jury. “He wanted to avoid sitting there. In front of you.”
Associated Press Writer Jim Mustian contributed to this report.