Reputation precedes 'El Chapo' as USA trial approaches

Minnie Murray
November 7, 2018

The almost-mythical criminal pedigree of Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who was extradited in 2017 to face US drug conspiracy charges, has sparked security concerns at his upcoming New York City trial that at times have drawn as much attention as the case's sensational allegations. The government has presented so much evidence that the defence complains they have not had enough time to review it all. Guzman will join the ranks of mobsters John Gotti and Vincent Basciano, whose career-ending appearances in the Eastern District courthouse each brought in more than 1,000 potential jurors.

The trial is set to begin Monday with jury selection.

The marathon Brooklyn federal trial, which will cost millions of dollars and is expected to last more than four months, will see Guzman face the United States justice system after twice escaping prison in Mexico, once hidden in a laundry cart and then slipping down a tunnel that reached his prison shower. Guzman sat at the defense table listening through an interpreter and wearing street clothes - a dark suit and a white shirt with an open collar - instead of a jail uniform for the first time since he was extradited to the United States early a year ago.

Guzman was extradited to the United States in January 2017 on an indictment that detailed his alleged reign over a merciless trafficking organization controlled through murder and torture. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says he was able to remain a force by communicating with his son and other cartel leaders through lawyers and others who visited him at the Altiplano prison outside Mexico City.


The Sinaloa cartel that Guzman founded in 1989 is still hugely powerful and his co-defendant Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada remains at large.

After Felix Gallardo was arrested in 1989, Guzman's Sinaloa cartel began its meteoric rise.

"I don't know why it's called the 'El Chapo, '" he said. In 2016, an average of 174 Americans died every day from drug overdoses. Others are already in jail, housed in special wings to protect them from reprisals.

Judge Brian Cogan has taken the extraordinary step of holding the trial behind closed doors. Even Guzman's lawyers are in the dark as to all the former associates, hired hands or rivals who have turned informants. He's been held in solitary confinement in a high-security federal cell in Manhattan since January 2017, when Mexico agreed to allow his extradition to the United States for trial. He spends 23 hours a day in his cell. He was first apprehended by Mexican authorities in 2016.

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