NEW YORK: Mexican drug kingpin and escape artist Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was sentenced Wednesday to life behind bars in a US prison, expressing no remorse over his conviction for a massive drug conspiracy that spread murder and mayhem for more than two decades.
Instead, a defiant Guzman took a parting shot at a judge in federal court in Brooklyn by accusing him of making a mockery of the US justice system in refusing to order a new trial based on unsubstantiated allegations of juror misconduct.
“My case was stained and you denied me a fair trial when the whole world was watching,” Guzman said through an interpreter.
Experts say he will likely wind up at the federal government’s Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, where inmates are held alone for 23 hours a day and have little human interaction.
“Since the government will send me to a jail where my name will not ever be heard again, I take this opportunity to say there was no justice here,” he said.
The 62-year-old drug lord – sporting his trademark moustache after being clean-shaven during his trial – also used what could be his last chance to speak in public by complaining about being kept in solitary confinement since he was brought to the US to stand trial after twice breaking out of Mexican prisons.
Before handing down the sentence, US District Judge Brian Cogan said Guzman’s complaints were minor given the “mountain range of evidence” against him detailing conduct he described as “evil.”
On Wednesday, the judge heard from one of Guzman’s alleged victims, Andrea Velez Fernandez, who once worked for him until she made his enemy list. She claimed he put out a $1 million bounty to have her killed.
“Fortunately, I found out and escaped with the help of the FBI,” she said.
Guzman had no visible reaction at hearing his sentence. As he stood to be led out of the courtroom, he put his hand on his heart and waved to family members.
Outside court, US Attorney Richard Donoghue told reporters: “Never again will Guzman pour poison over our borders.”
The term – life plus 30 years – was a foregone conclusion. The guilty verdict on drug-trafficking charges in February 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 at an 11-week trial showed that Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel was responsible for smuggling mountains of cocaine and other drugs into the United States during his 25-year reign, prosecutors said in recent court papers. They also said his “army of sicarios” was under orders to kidnap, torture and murder anyone who got in his way.
The defence 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,” defence 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. US authorities have kept him in an ultra-secure unit at a Manhattan jail and under close guard at his appearances at the Brooklyn courthouse where his case unfolded.
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 defence 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.
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 US government looked the other way. They said witnesses’ descriptions of El Chapo leading a lavish lifestyle featuring private planes, beachfront villas and a private zoo were overblown, and that there’s no chance the US government could collect the multibillion-dollar forfeiture.
The sentencing was headline news in Mexico, but it was seen as unlikely to make a ripple in terms of the country’s politics, security or the unabated drug trade.
Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope said Guzman’s fate will have “no impact” on trafficking. In the wake of Guzman’s arrest and extradition, alleged capo Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada is believed to have long-ago consolidated control of the Sinaloa cartel.
“El Chapo is now an old story,” Hope said.
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