Notorious drug lord Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán sentenced to life. And U.S. wants his $12.6B fortune.
Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán has been sentenced to life in prison on drug trafficking charges. Wochit
NEW YORK – Notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera was formally sentenced Wednesday to life in prison, bringing to an apparent end a decades-long, brutal and lucrative life of crime.
Brooklyn U.S. District Court Judge Brian Cogan imposed extra security provided by bomb-sniffing dogs, automatic-rifle-toting U.S. marshals and other measures – all ordered because the 62-year-old former leader of the Sinaloa narcotics cartel staged two escapes from Mexican jails.
"The overwhelming evil is so clear," Cogan said as he imposed the punishment in the same courtroom where a jury convicted Guzmán in February. There was "a mountain-load of evidence" showing Guzmán's guilt, the judge added.
The internationally known defendant, found guilty on drug trafficking and weapons charges, also was sentenced to 30 additional years and ordered to forfeit $12.6 billion based on the quantity and value of the drugs in his crimes.
"It's a fiction. It's part of the show trial," defense lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman said of the forfeiture outside the courthouse after the sentencing. "How do they get to dollar one? There are no assets."
Depending on U.S. Bureau of Prisons decisions, Guzmán could be sent to the so-called Alcatraz of the Rockies, the "administrative maximum" prison in Florence, Colorado. There he would join, but likely never meet, inmates such as Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and Oklahoma City bombing accomplice Terry Nichols.
Guzmán, who did not testify during his trial, spoke during the sentencing, his first public statements in months. He was dressed in a gray suit and lilac-colored shirt and tie and sported a mustache instead of the clean-shaven face during his trial. Spotting his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, as he entered the courtroom, Guzmán waved and touched his hand to his heart.
She gestured in return but otherwise showed little visible emotion during the sentencing.
Then Guzmán let go, criticizing U.S. officials for keeping him from his wife and young twin daughters, calling his pretrial jail conditions "torture" and claiming he was a victim of jury misconduct that caused an unfair trial.
“My case was stained and you denied me a fair trial when the whole world was watching,” Guzman said, speaking through a Spanish interpreter. “When I was extradited to the United States, I expected to have a fair trial, but what happened was exactly the opposite.”
He said he was denied access to sunlight, forced to use wadded-up toilet paper as earplugs to sleep amid noise from an air vent near his cell in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, and was forced to drink unsanitary water.
"It has been psychological and mental torture 24 hours a day," he said.
On the jury conduct allegation, he criticized Cogan for what he said was focusing on eyewitness accounts, taped records, financial documents and other prosecution evidence while taking no steps to examine potential juror misconduct.
The concerns were prompted by a Vice News report that said one member of the anonymous panel contacted a reporter and said she or he and at least five fellow jurors regularly followed social media coverage of the trial, learned about prejudicial evidence not introduced during the proceeding and lied to Cogan about the actions.
Defense lawyers said they would appeal Guzmán's conviction and sentencing based on the purported failures.
"You can bury Joaquín Guzmán under a mountain of steel in Colorado and make him disappear, but you are never going to remove the stench from this trial," Lichtman said.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Gina Parlovecchio argued that Guzmán was the only one to blame.
"You've heard throughout this trial that this defendant has no respect for human dignity," she said during the sentencing.
Andrea Vélez Fernández, a former member of Guzmán's cartel, sounded a similar note as she gave a victim impact statement during sentencing. Vélez Fernández said she spoke for thousands of people who were murdered or had their lives destroyed under Guzmán's cartel leadership.
Wiping away tears, she declared herself "a miracle of God" because Guzmán once offered hit men $1 million to have her killed. She was saved by FBI agents. Vélez Fernández also said she had wanted to leave the cartel but was warned that "I could only do it in a plastic bag and feet-first."
Lichtman called her statement a good acting "audition" as he cited Vélez Fernández's own drug crimes and lack of any prison sentence or other punishment.
Top U.S. federal prosecutors, however, sought to keep the public focus on Guzmán.
"The long road that brought ‘El Chapo’ Guzman Loera to a United States courtroom is lined with drugs, death and destruction but ends today with justice,” Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said after the sentencing. Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue added: "Never again will he pour poison into our country, or make millions as innocent lives are lost."
The case has drawn international attention, and the line to get into the proceeding started forming early Tuesday night. By dawn on Wednesday, more than 50 media representatives and spectators lined the sidewalk outside the courthouse.
Guzmán is best known as a drug trafficker and escape artist who staged one prison break by having underlings dig a nearly mile-long tunnel to his Mexican cell and outfit it with electrical lights and a motorcycle.
Prosecutors have started presenting evidence to jurors in the trial of the notorious drug smuggler known as El Chapo by giving them a video tour of a tunnel between Mexico and an Arizona warehouse. (Nov. 14)
Guzmán's nearly 12-week trial ended in February with a jury of eight women and four men finding the defendant guilty on all counts on the sixth day of deliberations.
The charges included drug trafficking and weapons counts stemming from his leadership role in the cartel's smuggling tons of cocaine and other drugs into major U.S. cities during a criminal career that stretched for decades.
Although his nickname means "shorty" in Mexican Spanish, Guzmán has long been a larger-than-life narcotrafficante whose persona has been featured in web TV, online and other media productions. Fittingly, his sentence was large, too.
The guilty verdict on the charge he engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise required a life prison term because of the jury's separate guilty votes on three sentencing enhancements.
In a legal quirk, Guzmán's conviction for unlawful use of a machine gun in tandem with the drug crimes meant he also faced the mandatory 30-year sentence that must run consecutively after the life term.
The sentencing seemingly marks an official end of Guzmán's reign as one of the world's most notorious drug lords, though his more than two years in solitary confinement in U.S. jails before the conviction had already removed him from the narcotics trafficking fray.
By many accounts, however, the Sinaloa cartel continues to thrive as it competes with other international drug trafficking organizations and diversifies into other businesses.
Mexican officials allowed cameras to tour a home where Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman was hiding prior to his arrest last week. The home was badly damaged in a military raid shortly before his arrest. (Jan. 11)
Guzmán's trial unfolded like a must-see telenovela as millions of readers and viewers followed the developments through traditional and online media. Scores of people trekked to the Brooklyn courthouse in the middle of the night in hope of landing one of the few available seats in the courtroom.
There was the grisly, like the testimony by a drug underling who told jurors Guzmán interrogated, tortured and shot enemies, even ordering one severely injured man buried alive.
There was the comic as a former mistress testified how she and a naked Guzmán escaped a raid by Mexican authorities on a Culiacán safe house by ducking into a shaft hidden beneath a bathtub and fleeing through a water tunnel.
There was business news as former Guzmán lieutenants and co-conspirators recounted how he oversaw secret tunneling along the Mexico-U.S. border that outpaced competitors in speeding cocaine to Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and other cities.
And there were tech developments, too, as government witnesses testified that the drug lord dubbed "El Rapido" used cars, trucks, trains, planes, fishing boats and even submarines for the long-distance drug smuggling from clandestine production labs in Colombia through Mexico and on to the U.S.
Contributing: John Bacon in McLean, Virginia
U.S. prosecutors on Friday described Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman as the murderous architect of a 3-decade-long web of violence, corruption and drug addiction and announced they were seeking a $14 billion forfeiture from him. (Jan. 20)