Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the Mexican drug lord found guilty of running a murderous criminal enterprise that smuggled tonnes of drugs into the United States was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison on Wednesday.
US District Judge Brian Cogan imposed the sentence of life plus 30 years, which was mandatory under the law, at a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn. Guzman was also ordered to forfeit $12.bn, prosecutors said.
Guzman, 62, was convicted in February on multiple conspiracy counts in an epic drug-trafficking case. The guilty verdict in an 11-week trial triggered what the government said was a well-justified mandatory sentence of life without parole.
Guzman, whose nickname means “Shorty,” developed a reputation as a Robin Hood-like figure that made him a folk hero to many in his home state of Sinaloa, where he was born in a poor mountain village.
The evidence showed that under Guzman’s orders, the Sinaloa Cartel was responsible for smuggling mountains of cocaine and other drugs into the US during his 25-year reign, prosecutors said in court papers recapping the trial.
They also said his “army of sicarios” was under orders to kidnap, torture and murder anyone who got in his way.
The defence argued that he was framed by other traffickers who became government witnesses so they could get breaks in their own cases.
Prosecution descriptions of an empire that paid for private planes, beachfront villas and a private zoo were a fallacy, his lawyers said. And the chances the US government could collect on a roughly $12.5bn forfeiture order are zero, they added.
The government case, defence lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman said recently, was “all part of a show trial.”
‘Alcatraz of the Rockies’
Guzman has been largely cut off from the outside world since his extradition in 2017. Wary of his history of escaping from Mexican prisons, US authorities have kept him in solitary confinement in a Manhattan jail and under close guard during his appearances at the Brooklyn court where his case unfolded.
During his sentencing hearing, Guzman said the solitary confinement by US authorities has been “psychological, emotional, mental torture, 24 hours a day”.
Speaking through a translator, he added he has been subjected to “cruel and inhumane” treatment.
Experts say he will likely wind up at the federal government’s Supermax prison in Colorado, which is known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies”. Most inmates at Supermax are given a television, but their only actual view of the outside world is a four-inch window. They have minimal interaction with other people and eat all their meals in their cells.
While the trial was dominated by Guzman’s persona as a near-mythical outlaw who carried a diamond-encrusted handgun and stayed one step ahead of the law, the jury never heard from Guzman himself, except when he told the judge he wouldn’t testify.
But evidence at Guzman’s trial suggested his decision to stay quiet at the defence table was against his nature: Cooperating witnesses told jurors he was a fan of his own rags-to-riches narco story, always eager to find an author or screenwriter to tell it. There also were reports he was itching to testify in his own defence until his attorneys talked him out of it, making his sentencing a last chance to seize the spotlight.
Though other top cartel figures had been extradited to the US before, Guzman was the first to go to trial rather than pleading guilty.
Guzman’s lawyers have said they intend to appeal his guilty verdict. They had already asked Cogan to overturn it, citing a report that jurors disobeyed court rules by reading news reports about the case during the trial, but the judge rejected that request.
Despite Guzman’s downfall, the Sinaloa Cartel had the biggest US distribution presence of Mexican cartels as of last year, followed by the fast-growing Jalisco New Generation Cartel, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration.