Trial of 'El Chapo' begins in federal court


His nickname may be shorty but the list of crimes attributed to Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman – including drug trafficking, murder, torture – is lengthy and spelled out in a 17-count indictment that forms the backbone of a trial that starts Tuesday in Brooklyn federal court with opening statements.

“Despite all the hoopla and the folklore about El Chapo, this Robin Hood mystique, he is a vicious criminal,” said James Hunt, who just retired as the special agent-in-charge of the New York Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

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Federal prosecutors have said they can link Guzman himself to nearly three dozen murders. The DEA believes the death count from the Sinaloa cartel he allegedly controlled is far higher.

“Him personally, yes in the dozens,” Hunt said. “His organization, in the thousands. Thousands dead. Either murdered or dying from drug overdoses.”

According to the indictment, El Chapo shipped “multi-ton quantities” of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States. Along the way he allegedly amassed a $14 billion fortune he protected “through a network of corrupt police and political contacts” and by employing “hitmen who carried out hundreds of acts of violence including murders, assaults, kidnappings, assassinations and acts of torture.”

Guzman was extradited to the Eastern District of New York almost two years ago from Mexico, where he had twice escaped from prison. The Brooklyn federal courthouse has been turned into a fortress. Jurors are being kept anonymous. Witnesses, including some of Guzman’s former henchmen, are being kept under federal protection.

After nearly two years in solitary confinement, Guzman had sought permission to embrace his wife in court. The judge denied the request citing the necessity of strict security measures.

“This is someone who is responsible for thousands of Americans being dead,” Hunt said. “Those people can never see their loved ones again never mind hug them. Don’t feel sorry for him.”