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February 24, 2019

El Chapo found guilty in epic 11-week drug trafficking trial in Brooklyn

February 12, 2019
In this 2016 file photo, drug lord Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman is made to face the media in Mexico City as he is escorted by Mexican soldiers following his recapture six months after escaping from a maximum security prison. (Eduardo Verdugo / AP)

They got Shorty.

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A jury of eight women and four men convicted Mexican drug lord Joaquín (El Chapo) Guzmán Loera of being a top boss of the powerful and ruthless Sinaloa Cartel Tuesday, triggering a mandatory life sentence.

The anonymous jury spent a marathon six days debating the closely watched case in Brooklyn Federal Court.

Their unanimous verdict was a major victory for prosecutors who said Chapo trafficked more than 150 tons of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the U.S. while generating “billions of dollars in profit” and conspiring to commit murder.

Chapo, whose narco nickname means “Shorty,” was up against a landslide of evidence painstakingly pieced together from sprawling investigations and indictments in New York, Texas, Florida, Illinois and California.

The jurors — their names a tightly-guarded secret due to concerns about their safety — heard from 57 witnesses during 36 days of testimony that started back on Nov. 13.

Fourteen of the witnesses were former Chapo underlings and associates who flipped on the crime lord under cooperation agreements with the government.

The sometimes circus-like trial drifted into telenovela territory when Chapo and his wife Emma Coronel Aispuro wore matching burgundy velvet smoking jackets as a former mistress resumed testimony about the 2014 night she and a naked Chapo fled authorities through a secret tunnel under a pop-up bathtub.

Once the most wanted man in the world, Chapo, 61, declined to testify in his own defense.

His lawyers spent less than half an hour questioning one witness before resting their case Jan. 29.

In his closing argument, defense lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman claimed Chapo was never a true powerbroker in the Sinaloa Cartel — rather he was set up to become the ultimate fall guy for his fugitive former partner Ismael (El Mayo) Zambada.

In the government’s closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Goldbarg urged jurors to use their common sense and not let Chapo escape justice.

She reminded them of the drug lord’s two prior escapes from high-security Mexican prisons — hidden in a laundry cart in 2001 and through a nearly mile-long tunnel dug from a nearby property to the bottom of his prison cell shower in 2015.

She recalled how the cartel boss moved massive amounts of drugs up to the U.S. border and beyond with a dizzying array of airplanes, speedboats, semi-submersible submarines, tanker trains partially filled with vegetable oil, smuggling tunnels and jalapeño pepper cans stuffed with cocaine.

Goldbarg claimed Chapo’s enterprise earned more than a billion dollars in the early 1990s alone, trafficking more than 75 tons of cocaine into the U.S. using the pepper can ruse.

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She said Chapo became so fabulously wealthy, he kept a private zoo with lions and tigers that he toured while riding on a personal train.

While the notorious narco’s empire evolved over the years as turf wars broke out and he lived life on the lam as a jailbreak fugitive, the drugs kept flowing, Goldbarg said.

She highlighted the countless bricks of cocaine seized up through 2014, his arsenal of military-grade weapons, his stable of sicarios, or hit men, and testimony Chapo paid millions in bribes to a rotating cast of corrupt officials.

The prosecutor opened her final argument with witness testimony claiming Chapo personally tortured and killed at least three people, ordering his men to burn two of the bodies in a bonfire and bury the third victim while still alive.

She said the jury didn’t have to conclude Chapo was the supreme leader of the Sinaloa Cartel — rather a top boss whose actions proved his status.

“Who traveled in an armored car with security guards? Who has not one but two tunnels (leading) to the United States? Who has a mile-long tunnel built under the shower in his prison cell? Who has a zoo with little trains? Who flies around in jets and helicopters? Who has diamond encrusted pistols? Who lives in the mountaintops and has his food flown to him?” Goldbarg fired off in rapid succession during her closing argument Jan. 30.

“The answer is common sense: a boss of the Sinaloa Cartel does this,” she said.

When the jury began deliberating Monday, part of the evidence at their disposal was the 2015 video interview Chapo recorded for actor Sean Penn and Mexican-American actress Kate Del Castillo as part of a profile published by Rolling Stone magazine.

In snippets played in court, jurors saw Chapo sitting in his signature trucker hat, waxing poetic about his roots as a penniless pot farmer growing up in Badiraguato, a poor village in the mountains of Sinaloa.

“There are no job opportunities. The only way to have money to buy food, to survive, is to grow poppy, marijuana, and at that age, I began to grow it, to cultivate it and to sell it,” he said in Spanish.

In another clip, Chapo claimed his trafficking business barely missed a beat while he was locked up in 2014 and planning his secret subterranean tunnel.

“From what I can tell, and what I know, everything is the same. Nothing has decreased,” he said.

U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan previously ruled that jurors would not see the text of the Rolling Stone article written by Penn.

According to Penn, Chapo boasted during their meeting that he was the world’s most successful drug baron.

“I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world. I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats,” he said, according to Penn.

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