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El Chapo: Mexican drug lord sentenced to life in prison

Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the Mexican drug lord found guilty of running a murderous criminal enterprise that smuggled tons of drugs into the United States over three decades, was sentenced by a US judge on Wednesday to spend the rest of his life in prison.

US district Judge Brian Cogan imposed the sentence of life plus 30 years, which was mandatory under the law, at a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn.

Guzmán, 62, was found guilty by a jury in February of trafficking tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana and engaging in multiple murder conspiracies as a top leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, long known as one of Mexico’s largest and most violent drug trafficking organizations.

In handing down the sentence, Judge Cogan said the “overwhelming evil” of Guzmán’s crimes was made readily apparent during the 12-week trial.

Raymond Donovan, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent who led the effort to capture and extradite the kingpin, said Guzmán’s conviction and sentence represented “justice not only for the Mexican government, but for all of Guzmán’s victims in Mexico”.

Guzmán, who did not testify in his defense, also addressed the court, speaking out in public for the first time since his conviction, albeit via an attorney.

“Since the government of the United States is going to send me to a prison where my name will never be heard again, I take advantage of this opportunity to say there was no justice here,” he told the court through his lawyer before sentencing.

Guzmán, who has lodged frequent complaints about the conditions of his detention, said that his incarceration during the case at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan had been “torture”.

“I’ve been forced to drink unsanitary water. I’ve been denied access to fresh air and sunlight. The only sunlight I have in my cell comes through in the air vent,” he said.

“In order to sleep, I have to clog my ears with toilet paper because of the air from the air duct,” he complained. “My wife has not been allowed to this day to visit me, I have not been allowed to hug my daughters.

“I have been physically, psychologically, mentally tortured 24 hours a day.”

In a separate statement, the lawyer who had represented him through the trial described the three-decade sentence as “a farce” that “shows the corruption of the criminal justice system” compared with the 17-year sentence handed down to Vicente Zambada, a rival trafficker who cooperated with the government.

“Joaquín’s conviction and incarceration for drug trafficking will change nothing in the so-called war on drugs,” Balarezo said. “Sing like a canary, true or false, and reduce your sentence. As long as you do what the government wants you to do, you will be fine.”

Experts say that given the felon’s history of twice escaping maximum-security prisons in Mexico and the ongoing business of the Sinaloa cartel, the US government will probably demand the diminutive smuggler serve his sentence at the federal government’s “Supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado, also known as ADX for “administrative maximum”.

The facility is so secure, so remote and so austere that it has been called the “Alcatraz of the Rockies”. The institution has housed a virtual who’s who of international crime, including the British “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, World Trade Center 1993 bomber Omar Abdel-Rahman and the so-called Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.

But Guzmán’s business with prosecutors is not yet complete. The government estimates that despite seizing nearly 200,000kg of Sinaloa cocaine, Guzmán amassed a fortune of an estimated $14bnbetween the 1980s and his 2014 arrest from his bulk smuggling operation.

In a filing last month, the US government put a precise figure on what it wants to collect from a drug lord whose tastes, like smugglers before him, ran large to four wives, four planes, a yacht, several beach houses, a gold-plated, jewel-encrusted pistol and a private menagerie containing lions, tigers, panthers and deer that he could visit “on a little train”. The figure? $12,666,191,704.00.

During his three-decade career as a smuggler, Guzmán, whose nickname means “Shorty”, developed a reputation as a Robin Hood-like figure that made him a folk hero to many in his home state of Sinaloa, where he was born in a poor mountain village.

Before he was finally captured in 2016, Guzmán twice escaped maximum-security prisons in Mexico. He was extradited to the United States to face trial in January 2017.

Guzmán made a name for himself as a trafficker in the 1980s by digging tunnels under the US-Mexico border that allowed him to smuggle drugs more quickly than any of his rivals. He amassed power during the 1990s and 2000s through often bloody wars with rivals, eventually becoming the best-known leader of the Sinaloa cartel.

His 12-week trial, which featured testimony from more than a dozen former associates of Guzmán who had made deals to cooperate with prosecutors, offered the public an unprecedented look at the cartel’s inner workings.

The witnesses, who included some of Guzmán’s top lieutenants, a communications engineer and a one-time mistress, described how he built a sophisticated organization reminiscent of a multinational corporation.

He sent drugs northward with fleets of planes and boats, and had detailed accounting ledgers and an encrypted electronic communication system run through secret computer servers in Canada, witnesses said.

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