Not since the 1930s and the days of Al Capone has such notoriety been afforded a bad guy, but this esteemed honor has been awarded to Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera aka “El Chapo.” Born on Christmas 1954 or April 7, 1957 (no one’s quite sure), the 5-foot-6 Mexican drug lord and former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel faces a 17-count indictment that spans three decades of criminal activity.
El Chapo has pled not guilty on all counts.
Just as opening arguments were set to begin in a Brooklyn, New York, federal court, one of the jurors backed out; citing “anxiety,” this juror was finally excused by the judge and another one was brought in to take her place later in the day. For sure this will prove to be a colorful trial if for no other reason than the violent and bizarre behavior of the accused, which, according to pre-trial documents, includes the following:
- In 2001 El Chapo broke out of prison in a laundry cart with the help of corrupt prison officials.
- In 2015 he successfully escaped from a maximum-security prison via a mile-long tunnel that connected to the bathroom in his cell.
- He is known to carry a diamond-encrusted pistol and a gold-plated AK-47 for protection.
- As the “Don” of the Mexican cartel, El Chapo is said to have ordered his henchmen to murder, kidnap, torture, and target people for particularly violent executions.
- El Chapo is known to some as a Robin Hood archetype for his largesse to the poor, who often protest his arrest and include his name in popular folk songs.
Security for the trial is extremely tight. A request by Emma Coronel Aispuro – El Chapo’s wife – to hug the defendant was denied by the judge. In his opening argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Adam Fels told the jury that they would get to hear El Chapo, “in his own words,” according to Lucy Anna Gray, who is covering the proceedings for the Independent. Fels told the jury he plans to show them Guzmán’s text messages.
That should be a barrel of fun.
…Sinaloa Cartel’s bribes went as far as Mexican presidents.
Guzmán’s lawyers, however, maintain their client is being “framed,” but considering the indictments go back almost 30 years, that’s a lot of framing. Guzmán’s geographical drug empire went from Africa to China to India. His success is said to be tied to his generosity when it came to bribery. “Massive bribes to corrupt politicians and security officials were largely responsible for the success of his business model, including a $1 million cash bribe for just one drug deal,” and according to Reuters, “The bribes often secured armed police escorts for shipments headed to the United States.” In fact, in their opening statements, defense attorneys claimed the Sinaloa Cartel’s bribes went as far as Mexican presidents. This seems an odd tack for the defense, but there you have it.
Guzmán was arrested by Mexican police and military after a shoot-out in 2016 and was extradited to the United States to face a multitude of criminal charges. Despite a rap sheet longer than his height, El Chapo has managed to get what he wants, when he wants it — whether in or out of the slammer.
Thus far it appears that, for El Chapo at least, money talks and, well, you know the rest.