What the government says it has on ‘El Chapo’

DEA agent tells what it was like to capture El Chapo
Joaquin "El Chapo'"Guzman

When Mexican cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman goes on trial in New York, federal prosecutors are expected to unveil evidence ranging from details of his sensational prison breaks to the drug ledgers of associates, from footage of tons of cocaine concealed in US-bound cans of jalapeños to YouTube video of a rival’s torture.

The conspiracy trial is set to begin in September, but a 90-page government memo filed in Brooklyn federal court this week outlines the evidence prosecutors hope to present as well as what they don’t want the jury to hear.

Guzman, the boss of the Sinaloa Cartel, will go on trial in US District Court for the Eastern District of New York on a 17-count indictment accusing him of heading a criminal enterprise responsible for importing and distributing hundreds of tons of narcotics and conspiring to murder rivals. He has pleaded not guilty.

“We just got it and I think I’m on page 87,” Guzman’s defense attorney, Eduardo Balarezo, said of the government memo. “I haven’t responded to it yet. We’re reviewing it.”

Here are some key points:

Guzman personally interrogated rivals, prosecutors say

Guzman allegedly had “sicarios,” or hit men, kidnap rivals and deliver them to him — “often bound and helpless” — so he could personally interrogate them, according to the memo.

“Indeed, in at least one instance, the defendant himself shot the rivals at point-blank range and ordered his lackeys to dispose of the bodies.”

Around 2006, according to prosecutors, associates of Guzman brought him two suspected members of the Zetas gang, which was made up of former elite members of the Mexican military.

“After having lunch, the defendant interrogated them, had them beaten and then shot them both in the head with a long gun,” the memo said.

Guzman allegedly ordered their bodies to be set ablaze before burial in a freshly dug hole, according to prosecutors.

Torture and YouTube

Around 2010, while at war with the Beltran Leyva organization, Guzman is accused of going after Israel Rincon Martinez, a top lieutenant and enforcer said to have killed Sinaloa Cartel members.

“The defendant and his cartel made considerable efforts to locate Rincon, and their efforts intensified after Rincon attempted to kill one of the defendant’s sons, but instead mistakenly killed the son of one of the defendant’s allies,” the government memo said.

Guzman’s associates kidnapped Rincon. They interrogated and tortured him, the memo said. The associates were instructed not to kill Rincon until Guzman could interrogate him. They killed him anyway.

“One of the members of the defendant’s cartel made a video recording of Rincon’s interrogation, which ultimately was uploaded to YouTube,” the memo said.

Another YouTube video obtained through a government search warrant is also expected to be shown to the jury. In it, Guzman is seen pacing as he interrogated a drug rival, according to the memo.

7.3 tons of cocaine in hundreds of jalapeño cans

Prosecutors listed it as the “1993 Chili Can Seizure Video.”

The news footage shows law enforcement officers emptying packages with more than seven tons of Sinaloa Cartel cocaine from hundreds of cans of chili peppers destined for the United States, the memo said. Mexican authorities made the discovery in the city of Tecate, on the border with California.

The infamous Puerto Vallarta disco shootout

Prosecutors expect to introduce witness testimony and evidence linking Guzman to numerous violent crimes, including killings during his cartel’s war with Tijuana’s Arellano Felix organization.

“Among the key battles in the bloody drug war was the infamous shootout in November 1992 at Christine’s discotheque in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico,” the memo said of the slayings at a nightclub popular with tourists.

“The defendant led an attack on members of the Arellano Felix organization he learned would be at the club, which resulted in a gunbattle that led to the deaths of six people.”

The rivals got away.

His flights from justice

In 2001, Guzman escaped from a Mexican prison in a laundry cart with the help of corrupt prison officials.

Then, in 2015, he did it again. Associates dug a tunnel into the shower of his prison cell from an abandoned home more than a mile away. In a widely circulated video of the breakout, Guzman is seen in his cell descending a ladder into the tunnel. He rode a motorcycle to the other end of the tunnel.

The memo said prosecutors will introduce evidence related to the two escapes as well as a planned Mexico breakout in late 2016 or early 2017, shortly before Guzman’s extradition to the United States. He allegedly spoke with “family members and other co-conspirators about trying to bribe officials to arrange his movement to another facility in Mexico from which he could more easily flee.”

What prosecutors don’t want the jury to hear

That interview Guzman gave actor Sean Penn in October 2016. The sit-down started with a warm hug and lasted seven hours. Penn later recounted the meeting in an article published on RollingStone.com.

“Penn casts the defendant’s drug trafficking activities in various exculpatory lights,” the government memo said.

“Among other things, he implies that the defendant was the true ‘president of Mexico,’ a ‘Robin Hood-like figure’ and a ‘businessman,’ who ‘unlike many of his counterparts [does not] engage in gratuitous kidnapping and murder.'”

Prosecutor disagreed with Penn’s assertion that “the American public is ‘complicit in every murder, and in every corruption’ of Mexican legal and political institutions stemming from the defendant’s actions, and that the defendant is merely a ‘humble, rural Mexican.'”

The memo also asked the court to “preclude the admission of any evidence or argument at trial” of Guzman’s “alleged charitable giving to citizens of Sinaloa” or his vow, through a lawyer in Mexico, to run for that’s country’s Senate from his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.