Drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, who once headed a criminal enterprise that spanned continents and triggered waves of bloodshed throughout his native Mexico, was found guilty Tuesday of all 10 federal criminal counts against him.
The vast Brooklyn, New York, courtroom fell silent as the verdict was read. Jurors did not look at the defendant, who pocketed nearly $14 billion as the decadeslong head of the murderous Sinaloa cartel.
There was no visible reaction from Guzmán, whose conviction on the top charge of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise carries a mandatory term of life in prison. He will be sentenced on June 25.
“It is a sentence of which there is no escape and no return, ” US Attorney for the Eastern District Richard Donoghue said.
US District Judge Brian Cogan confirmed the verdicts with each of the eight women and four men on the jury, telling them later their conduct on the panel “made me very proud to be an American.”
One of Guzmán’s lawyers described him as “extremely upbeat” after the verdict.
“He’s a fighter,” defense attorney Michael Lambert said. “He’s not done yet by far.”
After jurors left the room, Guzmán waved and smiled at his wife, Emma Coronel, a former beauty queen and courtroom regular who smiled back and touched her hand to her heart.
“Good, thank you,” she said in Spanish when asked how she felt after the verdict.
The partially sequestered and anonymous jury deliberated roughly 34 hours over six days.
Over 2½ months, they sat through testimony about unspeakable torture and ghastly murders, epic corruption at nearly every level of Mexico’s government, narco-mistresses and naked subterranean escapes, gold-plated AK-47s and monogrammed, diamond-encrusted pistols.
“We are obviously disappointed with the jury’s verdict in the trial of Joaquín Guzmán Loera but are respectful of the process and the jury’s decision,” defense attorney Eduardo Balarezo said. “We were faced with extraordinary and unprecedented obstacles in defending Joaquín. …”
Another member of the defense team, Jeffrey Lichtman, said they waged a vigorous defense against an “avalanche” of evidence and cooperating witnesses. They plan to file an appeal on a number of issues.
“He was bringing our spirits up, which was surprising. Usually it’s the other way around,” Lichtman said of his client after the verdict. “He’s always been a gentleman, always been supportive, always been happy and appreciative of all our efforts.”
Donoghue said the case represented a victory for the American people, for Mexicans who had lost loved ones in drug wars, and for every family who has lost someone to drug addiction.
“There are those who say the war on drugs is not worth fighting. Those people are wrong,” he said.
The case, Donoghue said, pulled back the curtain on international drug trafficking in a way no trial ever has, revealing the endemic corruption that allowed the Sinaloa cartel to operate.
“This is a day of reckoning, but there are more days of reckoning to come,” he said.
Gold-plated AK-47s and diamond-encrusted pistols
Guzmán, 61, was convicted of 10 counts, including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to launder narcotics proceeds, international distribution of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and other drugs, and use of firearms.
He faces a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for leading a continuing criminal enterprise, and a sentence of up to life imprisonment on the remaining drug counts.
Federal prosecutors said they will seek a forfeiture judgment for billions of dollars constituting the cartel’s illegal drug-trafficking proceeds.
The prosecution’s case featured 200 hours of testimony from 56 witnesses. Fourteen of those witnesses – mostly admitted drug traffickers and cartel associates – cooperated with prosecutors in hopes of reducing their own prison sentences.
There were also surveillance photos, intercepted phone calls and text messages involving Guzmán, as well as exhibits of blingy firepower and bricks of cocaine that dropped with the force of potato sacks.
In contrast, defense attorneys called just one witness and focused on undermining the credibility of cooperating witnesses. Defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said these witnesses had “lied every day of their lives – their miserable, selfish lives.”
Guzmán, once listed on Forbes’ Billionaires List, has long been a slippery and near-mythical figure. He escaped from a Mexican prison in 2001 in a laundry cart and again in 2015 through a tunnel. After he was recaptured in 2016, he was extradited to the US to face American federal charges.