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Drug kingpin Guzman gets life sentence, says jail has been ‘mental torture’

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the Mexican drug lord found guilty of running a murderous criminal enterprise that smuggled tons of drugs into the United States, said Wednesday his confinement amounted to “mental torture” as a U.S. judge sentenced him to a mandatory life in prison plus 30 years.

Speaking through a translator at a federal court in Brooklyn, Guzman called his confinement in the United States “psychological, emotional, mental torture 24 hours a day.”

“My case was stained, and you denied me a fair trial when the whole world was watching,” said Guzman. “When I was extradited to the United States, I expected to have a fair trial, but what happened was exactly the opposite.”

Guzman, 62, was found guilty by a jury in February of trafficking tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana and engaging in multiple murder conspiracies as a top leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, long known as one of Mexico’s largest and most violent drug trafficking organizations.

U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan had been asked by prosecutors for a sentence of life plus 30 years for use of firearms. Guzman’s lawyers did not dispute that a life sentence is mandatory.

Cogan also ordered Guzman to forfeit $12.6 billion US in ill-gotten proceeds from running the cartel.

“Never again will Guzman pour poison over our border, making billions, while innocent lives are lost to drug violence and addiction,” U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue told a news conference outside the Brooklyn courthouse. “We can ensure that he spends every minute of every day of the rest of his life in prison.”

Alleges improper juror behaviour

Guzman, whose nickname means “Shorty,” developed a reputation as a Robin Hood-like figure that made him a folk hero to many in his home state of Sinaloa, where he was born in a poor mountain village.

He is being held in solitary confinement in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a fortress-like jail in lower Manhattan. Cogan last month rejected his request for more time to exercise on the jail’s roof, after prosecutors said that would risk an escape.

One of the world’s most notorious drug lords, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, is on trial in New York and a star witness just revealed a lot about Chapo’s Canadian operation. The National Post’s Brian Fitzpatrick explains what court documents have shown. 18:06

Guzman, who recently grew a mustache, complained about the terms of his confinement before his sentence was handed down.

“It has been psychological, emotional, mental torture 24 hours a day,” said Guzman. He alleged that the jurors on his case allowed media accounts of the trial to influence their thinking — an argument his lawyers have also made.

Before he was finally captured in 2016, Guzman twice escaped maximum-security prisons in Mexico. He was extradited to the United States to face trial in January 2017.

Guzman made a name for himself as a trafficker in the 1980s by digging tunnels under the U.S.-Mexico border that allowed him to smuggle drugs more quickly than any of his rivals. He amassed power during the 1990s and 2000s through often bloody wars with rivals, eventually becoming the best-known leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.

His 11-week trial, which featured testimony from more than a dozen former associates of Guzman who had made deals to co-operate with prosecutors, offered the public an unprecedented look at the cartel’s inner workings.

Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of Joaquin Guzman, is shown arriving at the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn for his sentencing on Wednesday. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

The witnesses, who included some of Guzman’s top lieutenants, a communications engineer and a onetime mistress, described how he built a sophisticated organization reminiscent of a multinational corporation.

He sent drugs northward with fleets of planes and boats, and had detailed accounting ledgers and an encrypted electronic communication system run through secret computer servers in Canada, witnesses said.

Laundry cart, tunnel escapes

Though other top cartel figures had been extradited to the United States before, Guzman was the first to go to trial rather than pleading guilty.

Imprisoned in Mexico in 1993, he escaped in 2001 hidden in a laundry cart and spent the following years moving from one hideout to another in the mountains of Sinaloa, guarded by a private army.

He was seized again in 2014, but pulled off his best known escape the following year when he disappeared into a ventilated, mile-long tunnel dug into his cell in a maximum-security prison.

Guzman arrives at MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., on Jan. 19, 2017. Guzman’s attorneys plan to appeal the verdict. (The Associated Press)

He was finally recaptured in January 2016. The Mexican government says he blew his cover through a series of slipups, including an attempt to make a movie about his life.

Guzman’s lawyers have said they intend to appeal his guilty verdict. They have already asked Cogan to overturn it, citing a report that jurors disobeyed court rules by reading news reports about the case during the trial, but the judge rejected that request.

Authorities have not said where he will be imprisoned. But he likely will spend the rest of his life at the U.S. Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colo., the cumbersome name for what is better known as ADX Florence, the nation’s most secure so-called Supermax prison.

No one has escaped from the prison since it opened in 1994, and Guzman would join a long list of the most infamous of criminals who call it home.

“It’s very well designed for its purpose, to hold the most dangerous offenders in the federal prison system,” said Martin Horn, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and former commissioner of the city’s Department of Correction.

Despite Guzman’s downfall, the Sinaloa Cartel had the biggest U.S. distribution presence of Mexican cartels as of last year, followed by the fast-growing Jalisco New Generation Cartel, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.


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