Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán headed a global narcotics empire greased for decades with corruption and violence, a prosecutor said Wednesday during closing arguments at the alleged drug lord’s federal trial in New York.
To remind jurors of the mountain of evidence that had been presented to them since November, the prosecution stacked nearly ten cardboard boxes with the markings of the US Drug Enforcement Administration atop a plastic bag on the floor of the Brooklyn courtroom.
The display included weapons with evidence tags and one of the large cans of chiles that prosecutors say the Mexican cartel used to smuggle tons of cocaine into the United States.
Guzmán faces a range of charges, including international drug trafficking, conspiring to murder rivals, gun charges and money laundering. He has pleaded not guilty.
“Over 25 years, the defendant rose through the ranks to become one of the principal leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel,” said federal prosecutor Andrea Goldbarg, visually matching the pieces of evidence to the multiple counts faced by the defendant.
Closing arguments got underway on the 37th day of the sensational narcotics trial, which featured a parade of more than 50 prosecution witnesses.
Goldbarg reminded jurors of a number of murder conspiracies allegedly involving Guzmán, particularly the testimony of his onetime mistress, former Mexican lawmaker Lucero Sanchez.
Reading from Sanchez’s testimony about the day Guzmán learned of the slaying of his cousin, Juan “Juancho” Guzmán, Goldbarg quoted the defendant telling his lover that “whoever betrayed him was going to die regardless if they were family or women. If people ratted him out they were going to die.”
To buttress the firearm counts jurors will consider, Goldbarg showed them photos of notebooks seized during a raid of one of Guzmán’s many hideouts. One notebook contained a “shopping list” of weapons Guzman wanted, including 1,000 AK-47s, 1,000 40mm grenade launchers and 1,000 grenades, she said.
Jurors heard from cooperating witnesses, law enforcement officials and others who described a real life narco-drama, allegedly involving cold-blooded murder and epic corruption. Testimony revealed alleged details of Guzmán’s life in hiding from authorities in the rugged mountains of his home state, and his paranoia and obsession with electronically monitoring his wife, mistresses and associates. There were allegations that his wife, sons and a former cartel associate worked together to coordinate his final escape.
“Not even the four walls of prison could keep him from the drug trade,” Goldbarg said.
Guzmán’s wife, Emma Coronel, has not been charged with a crime. A spokesman for the US attorney’s office had no comment when asked whether Coronel could face charges due to the allegations.
The defense team presented its case Tuesday and finished in minutes, with a single FBI agent taking the stand. The prosecution also read a “stipulation” from another witness who was unable to appear in court.
During his 15-minute testimony, FBI agent Paul Roberts discussed notes he took while interrogating an informant in the case against Guzmán, while the stipulation provided testimony that another informant told investigators that Guzmán was $20 million in debt.
Throughout the trial, defense lawyers sought to discredit the government’s 14 cooperating witnesses, including many traffickers and associates who took plea deals in hopes of reduced sentences.
But Goldbarg told jurors that most of the witness accounts lined up.
“Some of these cooperating witnesses don’t even know each other, and those who do haven’t seen each other in years,” she said.
“Who travels in an armored car?” Goldbarg asked in closing arguments. “Who has a rotating staff of cooks and secretaries? Who has an escape tunnel built directly into the tub of his bathroom? Who has an army of people to protect them from enemies and who has enemies that they need an army to protect them from? Who has diamond encrusted pistols? A boss of the Sinaloa Cartel does these things.”
Alluding to Guzmán’s legendary history of dramatic prison breakouts, Goldbarg said, “He’s sitting right there. Do not let him escape responsibility. Hold him accountable for his crimes. Find him guilty on all counts.”
In January 2016, Mexican authorities closed in on Guzmán at a hideaway in the coastal city of Los Mochis. The next year, he was extradited aboard a flight from Juarez, Mexico, to New York.
The defense is expected to make its closing arguments Thursday, followed by a prosecution rebuttal.