U.S. trial of Mexico's 'El Chapo' begins
amid heavy security
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[November 13, 2018]
By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The trial of accused
Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman will begin with lawyers'
opening statements in a federal court in Brooklyn on Tuesday, amid
intense public attention and extraordinary security measures.
Federal prosecutors say that as leader of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel,
Guzman, 61, directed massive shipments of heroin, cocaine, marijuana and
methamphetamine bound for the United States. He faces 17 criminal counts
and a potential life sentence if convicted.
As well as smuggling drugs to the United States, the Sinaloa Cartel has
played a major role in narco violence between rival gangs that has torn
areas of Mexico apart and defied successive governments.
More than 200,000 people have been killed -- many in cartel feuds --
since the Mexican government sent troops in to take on the drug gangs in
Guzman's lawyers have signaled that they intend to downplay their
client's role in the cartel and argue that the prosecutors' witnesses
are motivated by self interest and not believable.
Guzman, who twice dramatically escaped from Mexican maximum security
prisons, has been kept in solitary confinement in Manhattan and
transported to court in Brooklyn in a heavily guarded motorcade.
The security around him is so strict that U.S. District Judge Brian
Cogan, who is presiding over the case, last week denied a motion by
Guzman asking to hug his wife before the trial.
The jurors will remain anonymous and be escorted to and from by armed
U.S. marshals. Prosecutors have said the security is necessary because
of Guzman's history of intimidating and even ordering murders of
potential witnesses. Guzman's lawyers have called those claims
Prosecutors have also taken extraordinary measures to protect witnesses
they plan to call during the trial, which could last up to four months.
According to court filings, those witnesses will include former Sinaloa
Cartel members and others involved in the drug trade who are now
cooperating with the U.S. government. None have been publicly named, and
some may testify under aliases.
Guzman was one of world's most wanted fugitives until he was captured in
January 2016 in his native Sinaloa. He was extradited to the United
States a year later.
[to top of second column]
A motorcade believed to be transporting Joaquin Guzman the Mexican
drug lord known as "El Chapo," crosses the Brooklyn Bridge before
arriving at the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse, in New York, U.S.,
November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
In 2009, Forbes Magazine put him on its list of the world’s richest
people, with an estimated $1 billion fortune but investigators say
it is impossible to know exactly how much he was worth.
Guzman used his wealth to buy off politicians, police chiefs,
soldiers and judges, Mexican prosecutors say. His nickname, a
reference to his five foot, six inch (1.67 meters) height, is often
translated in English as "Shorty."
Several former Guzman associates are known to have struck deals to
cooperate with U.S. prosecutors, raising the possibility that they
will appear on the witness stand.
They include Vicente Zambada, son of top Sinaloa Cartel figure
Ismael Zambada, who pledged to cooperate in a plea agreement made
public last week, and Chicago-born twins Pedro and Margarito Flores,
one-time drug traffickers who secretly taped Guzman.
The defense will be spearheaded by Eduardo Balarezo and William
Purpura, who previously defended Mexican drug lord Alfredo Beltran
Leyva, and Jeffrey Lichtman, best known for securing the acquittal
of mafia boss John Gotti's son.
Beltran Leyva, once a partner and later a rival of Guzman, was found
guilty of U.S. drug charges and sentenced to life in prison by a
federal judge in Washington last year.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder
and Alistair Bell)
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