NEW YORK: Once one of the world’s most powerful and notorious criminals, Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was jailed for life Wednesday — the mandatory sentence for a host of crimes spanning a quarter-century.
Guzman, the 62-year-old former co-leader of Mexico’s mighty Sinaloa drug cartel, was convicted in February in US federal court on a spate of charges, including smuggling hundreds of tons of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States.
The much-anticipated hearing in New York capped a dramatic legal saga and saw Guzman deliver what will likely be his final public words before he is taken to a supermax federal prison to live out his days.
“There was no justice here,” he said, wearing a gray suit, lilac shirt, purple tie and publicly sporting his trademark mustache for the first time stateside.
The charges, which also include money laundering and weapons-related offenses, carried a mandatory life sentence.
US Federal Judge Brian Cogan tacked a symbolic 30 years onto the sentence and ordered Guzman to pay $12.6 billion in forfeiture — an amount based on a conservative estimate of revenues from his cartel’s drug sales in the United States.
So far, US authorities have not recovered a dime.
– ‘Great torture’ –
In the Brooklyn courtroom, Guzman said prayers from his supporters had given him “strength to endure this great torture,” which he said has been “one of the most inhuman that I have ever experienced… a lack of respect for my human dignity.”
When entering and before leaving the room, he touched his heart and blew a kiss to his wife Emma Coronel, who wore a black and white suit and potentially saw her husband for the last time.
Complaining bitterly that he was unable to hug his twin daughters, who did not attend the hearing, Guzman said “the United States is no better than any other corrupt country that you do not respect.”
– ‘Overwhelming evil’ –
Guzman — whose moniker “El Chapo” translates to “Shorty” — is considered to be the most influential drug lord since Colombia’s Pablo Escobar, who was killed in a police shootout in 1993.
During the three-month trial in New York, jurors heard evidence from 56 government witnesses, who described the cartel boss beating, shooting and even burying alive those who got in his way, including informants and rival gang members.
Prosecutors won their request to tack on a symbolic extra 30 years in prison for the use of firearms in his business, portraying Guzman as “ruthless and bloodthirsty.”
Cogan said he imposed the additional sentence because the “overwhelming evil is so severe.”
A Colombian woman who prosecutors say survived a hit ordered by the kingpin tearfully read a statement in court Wednesday, saying Guzman had caused her psychological damage.
“I paid a high price — I lost my family, my friends, I became a shadow without a name.”
– ‘Alcatraz of the Rockies’ –
Guzman launched his career working in the cannabis fields of his home state of Sinaloa. He will likely spend his remaining years at the “Alcatraz of the Rockies” — the supermax federal prison in Florence, Colorado.
Current inmates include convicted “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols, the British “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and the Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is awaiting execution.
Since his extradition from Mexico in 2017, Guzman has been in solitary confinement at a Manhattan high-security prison.
He repeatedly lamented the conditions of his detention via his attorneys — notably that his windowless cell is constantly lit.
Speaking to AFP prior to the proceedings, Guzman’s lawyer William Purpura said: “I think he is in a good state of mind right now,” adding his client was “looking forward to his appeal.”
But following the sentencing Richard Donoghue, the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, vowed Guzman would spend “every minute of every day of his life in a prison here in the United States.”
“Never again will Guzman pour poison over our borders making billions while innocent lives are lost to drug violence and drug addiction.”
Speaking to AFP, New York’s special narcotics prosecutor Bridget Brennan did acknowledge that removing El Chapo from the equation did not diminish the Sinaloa cartel’s heavy influence on drug pathways into the US.
Still, New York’s head special agent for Homeland Security Investigations Angel Melendez said the sentencing marked “the end of the line.”
“The sentence separates the myth of El Chapo from the man Joaquin Guzman,” Melendez said. “It’s a reality, he’ll never be able to escape.” – AFP