New York City: Notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has been found guilty of drug-trafficking charges at a trial in New York. The verdict reached on the sixth day of jury deliberations could put the 61-year-old behind bars for the rest of his life in a high-security US prison selected to thwart another one of the escapes that embarrassed his native country.
Guzman broke out of Mexican prisons twice before he was finally recaptured and extradited to the US in 2017.
Federal prosecutors put on more than 50 witnesses over three months detailing how Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel amassed billions of dollars importing tons of cocaine, heroin, meth and marijuana into the US.
Witnesses detailed assassinations and political payoffs, and how drugs were smuggled using tanker trucks, railway carriages and even shipments of canned peppers.
The story of notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has it all: dozens of murders; billions of dollars of drugs smuggled around the world; two prison escapes that made Guzmán into something of a folklore hero.
His nickname may mean “Shorty” in Spanish, but his reach was long. On Tuesday, jurors found Guzmán guilty on all 10 counts in his drug trafficking and murder trial at a federal court in New York City.
The jury heard extensive testimony about Guzman’s rise to power as the head of the Sinaloa cartel in the high-profile trial before reaching the verdict Tuesday. Prosecutors said he’s responsible for smuggling at least 200 tons of cocaine into the United States and a wave of killings in turf wars with other cartels. The 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.
Guzman showed no visible sign of emotion as the verdict was announced, reports CBS News’ Cassandra Gauthier.
Before being escorted out of the courtroom, Guzman exchanged glances with his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, who was seated in the courtroom gallery. He gestured and mouthed something to her. He then shook the hands of his defense attorneys.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Richard Donoghue, said he expects the conviction will bring a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“It is a sentence from which there is no escape and no return,” Donoghue said. “His conviction is a victory for the American people who have suffered so long and so much while Guzman made billions pouring poison over our southern border.”
When sentenced, Guzman is expected to be sent to United States Penitentiary Florence, a SuperMax prison in Colorado, reports Gauthier and CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton.
Donoghue said the trial “pulled back the curtain” on international drug-dealing. He called the conviction a “day of reckoning” and a victory for “every family who has lost a loved one to the black hole of addiction.”
During the lengthy trial,the prosecution presented 56 witnesses, Milton and Gauthier report, 14 of those considered “government cooperators” who testified Guzman led a criminal enterprise. Guzman, 61, is notorious for escaping prison twice in Mexico. In closing arguments, prosecutor Andrea Goldbarg said he was plotting yet another prison break when was he was sent in 2017 to the U.S., where he’s been held in solitary confinement ever since.
The defendant wanted to escape “because he is guilty and he never wanted to be in a position where he would have to answer for his crimes,” Goldbarg said. “He wanted to avoid sitting right there. In front of you.”
Goldbarg cited an “avalanche” of evidence gathered since the late 1980s that Guzman and his murderous Sinaloa drug cartel made billions in profits by smuggling tons of cocaine, heroin, meth and marijuana into the U.S.
Evidence showed drugs poured into the U.S. through secret tunnels or hidden in tanker trucks, concealed in the undercarriage of passenger cars and packed in rail cars passing through legitimate points of entry.
The prosecution’s case against Guzman, a roughly 5½-foot figure whose nickname translates to “Shorty,” included the testimony of several turncoats and other witnesses. Among them were Guzman’s former Sinaloa lieutenants, a computer encryption expert and a Colombian cocaine supplier who underwent extreme plastic surgery to disguise his appearance.
One Sinaloa insider described Mexican workers getting contact highs while packing cocaine into thousands of jalapeno cans – shipments that totaled 25 to 30 tons of cocaine worth $500 million each year. Another testified how Guzman sometimes acted as his own sicario, or hitman, punishing a Sinaloan who dared to work for another cartel by kidnapping him, beating and shooting him and having his men bury the victim while he was still alive, gasping for air.
Goldbarg urged jurors to use “common sense” and find Guzman guilty.
“He’s responsible for any acts committed by the cartel,” Goldbarg said. “It was his orders, his actions.”
Guzman’s attorneys said their client denies the allegations.
The defense claimed Guzman’s role has been exaggerated by cooperating witnesses who are seeking leniency in their own cases. In his closing, defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman assailed the case as a “fantasy” and urged the jury not to believe cooperators who “lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs and kill people” for a living.
The defense, which presented only one witness, told the jury they “don’t need to give in to the myth of El Chapo.”
While the trial was dominated by Guzman’s persona as a near-mythical outlaw who carried a diamond-encrusted handgun and stayed one step ahead of the law, the jury never heard from Guzman himself, except when he told the judge he wouldn’t testify.
Following the verdict, Lichtman said the defense “fought like complete savages” and will appeal the case. “No matter who the defendant is, you still have to fight to the death.”
He said his client was a positive thinker who “doesn’t give up.”
Upon hearing the verdict, Guzman was “as cool as a cucumber,” Lichtman added. “Honest to god, we were more upset than he was.”
Last month, newly unsealed court papers revealed disturbing allegations not heard by the jury — that Guzman had sex with girls as young as 13. A Colombian drug trafficker told investigators the kingpin paid $5,000 to have the girls brought to him and sometimes drugged and raped them. “These allegations are so reprehensible,” said CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman, but evidence about them was not included in the trial.
The start of the proceedings last week was briefly delayed after two jurors indicted to the judge they were aware of reports about the alleged sex crimes. He questioned both behind closed doors before allowing them to remain on the jury.
The unsealing of the documents came at the request of The New York Times and Vice News. U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan had ordered prosecutors to review the material — originally sealed because it was deemed unrelated to the drug charges — and make portions of it public within four days of the government resting its case against Guzman.
2014: Public Enemy Number 1 is caught
When Mexican marines captured Guzmán in 2014, he had been on 13-year run from the law after escaping from a Mexican prison in 2001. He was the most wanted man in the world; his international drug cartel put him at the top of the list.
“Making billions of dollars, having a reach around the world in Asia, Australia, in Africa, in Europe; putting poison on the streets, not just in the United States, but all over the world,” Derek Maltz told Whitaker in the video above. Maltz was in charge of the DEA’s Special Operations Division tasked with finding Guzmán.
After years of independent searching, Mexican law enforcement had teamed up with several U.S. law enforcement agencies to track the drug lord. After streamlining their efforts, the group tracked Guzmán to a non-descript house in the midst of a middle-class Mexican neighborhood. But as soon as the Mexican marines arrived, Guzmán escaped down a tunnel underneath his bathtub.
Maltz feared the drug lord would continue evading arrest. “I never believed that he would ever be captured,” he said.
But the Mexican marines were relentless. With the help of American law enforcement, they tracked Guzmán to a beachfront building in Mazatlán, where they finally captured him and arrested him.
“We did not ever anticipate that he’d be captured alive,” said Jim Dinkins, who was head of Homeland Security Investigations and had pursued Guzmán for more than a decade. “We thought he’d fight to the death.”
2015: “El Chapo” escapes from prison
Guzmán had already escaped from prison once. In 2015, he did it again.
Almost from the moment he was delivered to Altiplano Prison, a maximum security facility in Mexico, a construction crew from his Sinaloa cartel began digging a tunnel to free him. From almost a mile away, Guzmán’s men dug down about three stories and then burrowed 4,921 feet straight toward Altiplano. The tunnel went under the prison wall and beneath the plumbing — and with remarkable accuracy, emerged straight into Guzmán’s shower stall.
“It’s very difficult to navigate underground,” Dinkins said. “This tunnel, I believe, went from point A to point B with only minor deviations, if any. And that is an engineering marvel in and of itself.”
DEA Chief Chuck Rosenberg told Whitaker how he thought it might be possible: corruption and bribes within Mexican law enforcement.
“I don’t know specifically how high up they reach,” Rosenberg said. “My sense is that they’re both broad and deep, that they go throughout the Mexican government.”
Joe DiMeglio, the chief of the San Diego Tunnel Task Force, told Whitaker that he wasn’t sure Guzmán would ever be caught again.
2016: Recapturing “El Chapo”
But unlike the first time Guzmán escaped from prison, he became sloppy the second time around. After his daring breakout in 2015, the drug lord seemed to become almost delusional.
“He became drunk on his own wine,” said Peter Vincent, a senior official and legal adviser of both the Justice Department and Homeland Security during the international manhunt for Guzmán. “He started to believe the hype that he was special, that he was almost a demigod, that he was something truly magical. And he became so incredibly arrogant that he thought he was untouchable.”
He wasn’t. Only 20 days after his escape, the Mexican marines had picked up on Guzmán’s trail.
Intelligence tracked him to a house in the coastal town of Los Mochis in northern Sinaloa. Wiretap intercepts picked up on a visit planned by “grandma and aunt”—code names for Guzmán and his lieutenant. Then, “grandma” finally showed up. As an assault force moved into position, an armored truck left to go pick up food for a party.
“For an incredibly savvy, clever, almost a criminal genius that El Chapo Guzmán was, he ultimately was done in by very simple tastes: tacos, tequila, and chicas,” Vincent said.
Guzmán was arrested again. Mexican federal police took him to a motel instead of jail — a move Vincent said indicates that Guzmán had likely threatened his captors. But the Mexican marines appeared and apprehended Guzmán for a last time, flying him to Mexico City for booking.
The trial began in November, and jurors deliberated for more than 30 hours over six days before reaching their verdict. Guzmán now faces life in a U.S. prison.