A federal judge on Tuesday refused to move the scheduled November trial of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera out of Brooklyn, saying officials have a plan to “alleviate” defense concerns about the prejudicial impact of high-security daily transport of the accused drug lord from his Manhattan jail.
Brooklyn U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan, denying a defense motion to try the case in Manhattan or Philadelphia, where Guzmán would be housed closer to court, declined to publicly disclose the new plan, and told defense lawyers they had to sign a nondisclosure agreement to get details.
The U.S. Marshals office did not return a call for comment. The new approach could involve helicopter transport, but Guzmán’s lawyers told reporters the likeliest plan was to hold him at or near the Brooklyn federal courthouse during trial instead of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.
“At this point we assume, based on the court’s comments, that the Marshal’s service will facilitate housing for Mr. Joaquín here for the trial dates,” said defense attorney William Purpura. “I’d think a facility very close to the courthouse to avoid any issues with the traffic.”
Guzmán, 61, was extradited from Mexico last year to face charges that his Sinaloa cartel used violence and intimidation to run a drug trafficking empire that smuggled 20 tons of cocaine as well as other drugs into the United States from 1989 to 2014.
He twice escaped from jails in Mexico, and since arriving in the United States has been confined in the high-security Manhattan federal jail. On court days, authorities have closed the Brooklyn Bridge for a convoy of black SUVs, police and emergency vehicles to transport him back and forth.
With trial expected to last four months, defense lawyers complained in May that the “theatrics and disruption” of the daily transport would identify him as a guilty, dangerous man and potentially tilt jurors against him.
“I think the concerns you addressed, which are valid concerns, are going to be alleviated,” Cogan told them. “I’ve spoken to the marshals. I’m confident they’ll be entirely alleviated.”
Purpura said he wasn’t sure if Guzmán would be housed in Brooklyn all week or be returned to Manhattan for weekends, and said housing could be in an existing facility or might be specially built or outfitted for Guzmán.
Guzmán, in a blue prison outfit, listened to the hearing through earphones with the help of a translator, exchanging frequent glances with his wife, who sat in the second row of the courtroom.
Cogan said he would issue a ruling this week on how much evidence the prosecution could introduce of murders and other violent acts allegedly ordered by Guzmán that were not directly charged in the 17-count indictment, and signaled he was likely to limit it.
Defense lawyers complained that just a few months from trial they were still in the dark about the names of many government informants who would appear as witnesses because of prosecution concerns about their safety.
“We’re doing this case with two hands tied and one eye closed,” defense lawyer Eduardo Balarezo told the judge.