Thu | May 23, 2019

US trial of Mexican drug lord "El Chapo" gets underway

Published:Wednesday | November 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM
In this January 19, 2017 file photo provided US law enforcement, authorities escort Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, center, from a plane to a waiting caravan of SUVs at Long Island MacArthur Airport, in Ronkonkoma, New York. A jury has been picked for the US trial of the Mexican drug lord.


The high-security trial of infamous Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman got under way yesterday, with a prosecutor telling jurors how the man who got his start in a modest marijuana-selling business in Mexico ruthlessly turned it into a blood-drenched smuggling operation that funnelled cocaine and other drugs as far north as New York.

Assistant US Attorney Adam Fels told a jury in a New York City courtroom that Guzman "sent killers to wipe out competitors," and "waged wars against long time partners ... including his own cousins."

Guzman, who has been held in solitary confinement since his extradition to the United States early last year, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he amassed a multi-billion-dollar fortune smuggling tons of cocaine and other drugs in a vast supply chain that reached New York, New Jersey, Texas and elsewhere north of the border.

If convicted, he faces a possible life prison sentence.

Prosecutors have said they will use thousands of documents, videos and recordings as evidence, including material related to drug smugglers' safe houses and Guzman's 2015 prison escape and the law enforcement operation to recapture him.

Fels described to jurors how Guzman started modestly in the early 1970s by selling marijuana in Mexico, but built his reputation by constructing tunnels across the Mexico-US border to transport marijuana and cocaine so fast that he was "no longer El Chapo, the short one." Instead, he became known as "the speedy one." Before his tunnels, it had taken weeks to move drugs across the border to the US

Before long, Guzman was receiving 10 to 15 planes "stuffed with cocaine" from Colombia at landing strips in Mexico for transport to cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, Fels said.

As his business flourished using the tunnels, trains, planes and vessels, Guzman began taking aim at rivals in the early 1990s, leading to bloody wars. In 1993, he fled to Guatemala but was captured and imprisoned in Mexico for eight years, where he continued running his drug empire, Fels said.

The prosecutor spoke of two dramatic escapes from prison by Guzman and said he was planning a third when he was brought to the US.