‘El Chapo’ Guzmán makes first court appearance.
Recently extradited Mexican drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán was arraigned in downtown Brooklyn Federal Court Friday on a 17-count sweeping indictment on charges including drug trafficking, weapons violations, money laundering and murder.
It was Guzman’s first court appearance since he was extradited from Mexico late Thursday evening.
Dozens of federal agents and NYPD Police officers formed a protective ring around the Brooklyn Federal Court house on Friday as ‘El Chapo’ appeared for his arraignment donning blue navy scrubs with sneakers and without his hands and feet bound by shackles.
The unprecedented security prompted Angel Melendez of the Homeland Security Department’s Immigration Customs Enforcement to declare that “there will not be any tunnel being built from his bathroom. This is a good day in American Justice,” reference to the kingpin’s 2015 escape from a Mexica prison.
‘El Chapo’ Guzmán who was aided by a translator pled not guilty to all 17 counts and waived his right to have his charges read out loud, ABC News reported.
When asked by U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein, whether he understood the charges against him such, ‘El Chapo’ responded “si señor, I didn’t know until now.”
Capers said in a statement Guzman appeared for his arraignment hearing on Friday, where he was formally charged by the judge.
The indictment alleges Guzman of leading a criminal enterprise that imported multi-ton quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana into the U.S. spanning over two decades.
Additionally, prosecutors allege that as one of the top leaders of the Sinaloa Federation Cartel, ‘El Chapo’ and other co-conspirators employed teams of sicarios or assassins to murder rival cartel members and Mexican federal police officials as well as carrying acts of violence including torture and kidnappings.
Court documents indicate Guzman formed a partnership in the late 90’s and into the early 2000s which ultimately culminated in the formation of the Sinaloa Federation, which is considered the largest drug-trafficking network in the world.
Furthermore, the U.S. Attorney said Guzman and his associates were contracted by Colombian suppliers to transport drugs through Mexico en route to the U.S.
The indictment also accuses Guzman of using firearms to retaliate against rival cartel members to further enhance his criminal drug trafficking organization.
Additionally, prosecutors charged Guzman with his role in a bulk smuggling money laundering operation that saw more than $14 billion in cash derived from illicit drug proceeds earned throughout the U.S. and Canada, which were funneled back to Mexico.
The Justice Department said the investigation had yielded the seizure of nearly 200,000 kilograms of cocaine linked to the Sinaloa Cartel.
Before the hearing, Brooklyn federal prosecutors unsealed documents in the case against ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, which Robert Capers, the incoming U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Court of New York called ironclad.
The unsealed court records show prosecutors plan to parade dozens of cooperating witnesses including top cartel leaders from South America and Mexico who for decades have dealt with Guzman on a face to face basis and can provide testimony of his “power, corruption and violence” within his cartel.
Capers labeled ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán as a ruthless scourge to global society and said his criminal organization began as a tumor and has metastasized over the years, scattering the streets of Mexico with poison and facilitating violence resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands.
“His story was not one of a do-gooder or a Robin Hood. Or one of a famous escape artist who miraculously escaped from Mexican prisons on multiple occasions,” Capers said.
The U.S. Attorney added, “Guzman’s destructive and murderous rise as the international narcotics trafficker was akin to that of a small cancerous tumor that metastasized and grew into a full blown scourge that for decades littered the streets of Mexico with the casualties of violent drug wars over turf.”
Guzman’s U.S. attorney called the government’s case circumstantial at best and maintained prosecutors showed no evidence of wrongdoing.
Attorney Michael Schneider said Friday that Guzman and his lawyers look forward to addressing the drug-trafficking and other allegations against him in court. Schneider also suggests they’re also interested in exploring whether Guzman’s extradition was appropriate.
Officials said the Justice Department will seek life imprisonment for ‘El Chapo’ and a forfeiture of $14 billion dollars from him.
U.S. authorities have sought custody of Guzman since he was first indicted in Southern California in the early 1990’s. He now stands the possibility of spending the rest of his life in a U.S. federal prison.
“El Chapo” arrived in New York Thursday evening on a flight from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. His appearance in court brings an end the U.S. government’s two-decade-old hunt to have Guzman stand trial in the U.S. Justice System.
Guzman is slated to appear back in court on Feb. 3rd.