Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman sentenced to life in prison
NEW YORK — The Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was sentenced Wednesday to life behind bars in a U.S. prison, a humbling end for a drug lord notorious for his ability to kill, bribe or tunnel his way out of trouble.
A federal judge in Brooklyn handed down the sentence, five months after Guzman’s conviction in an epic drug-trafficking case.
The 62-year-old drug lord, who had been protected in Mexico by an army of gangsters and an elaborate corruption operation, was brought to the U.S. to stand trial after he twice escaped from Mexican prisons.
Guzman, sporting his trademark moustache after being clean-shaven during his trial, spoke in court Wednesday for what may be the last time the public hears from him. Prior to his sentencing, he complained about the conditions of his confinement and told the judge he was denied a fair trial. He said U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan failed to thoroughly investigate claims of juror misconduct.
“My case was stained and you denied me a fair trial when the whole world was watching,” Guzman said in court through an interpreter. “When I was extradited to the United States, I expected to have a fair trial, but what happened was exactly the opposite.”
He also thanked his family for giving him “the strength to bear this torture that I have been under for the past 30 months.” He looked at his family after the sentencing and placed his hand on his heart.
The sentence — life plus 30 years — was pre-ordained. The guilty verdict in February at Guzman’s 11-week trial triggered a mandatory sentence of life without parole. Cogan also ordered Guzman to pay $12.6 billion in ill-gotten proceeds — money his drug-trafficking organization made distributing cocaine and other drugs around the United States.
The evidence showed that under Guzman’s orders, the Sinaloa cartel was responsible for smuggling mountains of cocaine and other drugs into the United States during his 25-year reign, prosecutors said in court papers recapping the trial. They also said his “army of sicarios” was under orders to kidnap, torture and murder anyone who got in his way.
The defense argued he was framed by other traffickers who became government witnesses so they could get breaks in their own cases. They also claimed his trial was tainted by jurors improperly viewing media coverage of the highly publicized case.
“A fair outcome was a fair trial– that’s all we wanted,” defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman told reporters Wednesday outside the federal courthouse. “It was not justice. We can’t have a situation where the jurors are running around lying to a judge about what they were doing.”
Guzman has been largely cut off from the outside world since his extradition in 2017.
Wary of his history of escaping from Mexican prisons, U.S. authorities have kept him in solitary confinement in an ultra-secure unit at a Manhattan jail and under close guard at his appearances at the Brooklyn courthouse where his case unfolded.
Experts say he will likely wind up at the federal government’s “Supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado, known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.” Most inmates at Supermax are given a television, but their only actual view of the outside world is a 4-inch window. They have minimal interaction with other people and eat all their meals in their cells.
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.
But evidence at Guzman’s trial suggested his decision to stay quiet at the defense table was against his nature: Cooperating witnesses told jurors he was a fan of his own rags-to-riches narco story, always eager to find an author or screenwriter to tell it. He famously gave an interview to American actor Sean Penn while he was a fugitive, hiding in the mountains after accomplices built a long tunnel to help him escape from a Mexican prison.
There also were reports Guzman was itching to testify in his own defense until his attorneys talked him out of it, making his sentencing a last chance to seize the spotlight.
At the trial, Guzman’s lawyers argued he was the fall guy for other kingpins who were better at paying off top Mexican politicians and law enforcement officials to protect them while the U.S. government looked the other way.
Prosecution descriptions of an empire that paid for private planes, beachfront villas and a private zoo were a fallacy, his lawyers say. And the chances the U.S. government could collect on a roughly $12.5 billion forfeiture order are zero, they add.
The government’s case, defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said recently, was “all part of a show trial.”