By Ben Kane (Print Editor in Chief)
Labeled the most powerful drug kingpin to walk the earth, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was found guilty on ten counts of trafficking of substances such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana and is expected to be sentenced to life in prison in a US federal court in Brooklyn, NY.
The 61-year old headed the notorious Mexico-based Sinoloa cartel, which grew into an international organization spreading across 5 continents and several US states. The cartel has been labeled as “the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world” by US Intelligence Community, and the US Attorney General’s office associates the distribution of over 200 tons of cocaine in the United States to the cartel. Guzman now faces life in prison without parole in the maximum security Supermax prison, which holds convicted criminals such as Boston bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, and 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.
Jurors spent six days deliberating after a two and a half month ordeal where they heard an “avalanche” of evidence from the prosecution, detailing Guzman’s and the cartel’s grisly methods of torture, murder, and violence against enemies of the group and corrupted officials of the Mexican government. The cartel infiltrated essentially all levels and branches of government, the most shocking testimony regarding such accusing Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto of accepting a 100 million dollar bribe from the group.
The defense called exactly one witness during their half hour case. They focused on undermining the credibility of the 56 witnesses called up by the prosecution, many of whom were cooperating with the prosecution efforts in order to decrease the length of their own prison sentences. A member of the defense team, attorney Jeffrey Lichtman, said that the witnesses had “lied every day of their lives — their miserable, selfish lives.”
Lichtman argued during closing remarks that jurors were not to believe the witnesses, who had ulterior motives and were solely testifying for their own personal benefit. He pleaded with the jurors to doubt the witnesses who “lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs and kill people.”
US Attorney for the Eastern District Richard Donoghue said that the result of the trial was “a victory for the American people who suffered so much” from the tons of poisonous drugs that were flooding over the border into the country due to Guzman’s reign.
“There are those who say the war on drugs is not worth fighting. Those people are wrong,” Donoghue said after the trial.
Guzman is now facing spending the rest of his life at Supermax prison, where he’ll be spending 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. The prison is specifically designed to keep each inmate as isolated as possible. Prisoners have one hour a day to spend outside in a cage with some other inmates. Travis Dusenbery, who spent ten years at the prison, says that “The closest human contact you could get was what we called ‘finger handshakes’ through the fence.”
No one has ever escaped from the prison, which may be fitting for the likes of Guzman, who escaped from Mexican prisons twice. In 2001, he was assisted by prison guards within the facility, and in 2015, he tunneled his way out through a hole in the shower drain. He will likely be sent to the prison in order to diminish the likelihood of his escape.
“It’s a very controlled environment. No one moves there without permission at all. No two inmates move in the facility at the same time,” an anonymous former federal corrections officer told the Washington Post.
One unexpected impact of the trials, however, was the way it changed discussion of President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall. Guzman’s trial, which ironically went on in conjunction with the partial government shutdown over border wall dealings, detailed how Guzman was able to ship tons of drugs into the country so effectively through the use of legal entrance methods and underground tunnels, neither of which would be stopped by a border wall.
As expected, Guzman’s arrest, extradition, and conviction in the United States hasn’t stopped the Sinoloa cartel from operating. The cartel now already has another head and still has strong grips across Mexico, the United States, and the entire globe. The federal government still has much work to do to properly control and destroy the power of the cartel, yet Guzman’s conviction is a big step towards achieving that goal. His sentencing will take place on June 25th.
“This is a day of reckoning,” Donoghue said after the trial. “But there are more days of reckoning to come.”