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Feds seek $12.7B in drug money from El Chapo

FIn this Feb. 22, 2014 file photo, Joaquin

FIn this Feb. 22, 2014 file photo, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the head of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, is escorted to a helicopter in Mexico City following his capture in the beach resort town of Mazatlan. A New York judge has rejected a request for a new trial by the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo. U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan said in a written ruling Wednesday, July 3, 2019, that a mountain range of evidence‚ introduced against Guzman overcame his claims that the jury was tainted. Photo Credit: AP/Eduardo Verdugo

Convicted drug kingpin El Chapo should forfeit about $12.7 billion in cash for building a cocaine, heroin and marijuana empire in the United States, the Justice Department said Friday in asking for one of the largest cash penalties against a single person.

That amount is the "conservative" street value of drugs that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn estimated Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera shipped, flew, drove or smuggled in some way to the United States, according to a proposed order filed by U.S. Attorney Robert Donoghue for the Eastern District. Guzman must pay with a money order or a certified or official bank check, the proposed order said.

The forfeiture request comes after Guzman's request for a new trial was rejected Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge Brian Cogan. Guzman, a leader in Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, awaits his July 17 sentencing after a Brooklyn jury found him guilty in February on all 10 drug-related charges, with operating a continuing criminal enterprise and money laundering conspiracy chief among the convictions. 

In his 2017 financial affidavit, Guzman reported he had no income for the previous 12 months, no cash, no bank accounts and no other kinds of assets, Justice officials noted in a 12-page forfeiture proposal to Cogan. 

However, the government "need not prove that the defendant can pay the forfeiture money judgment; it need only prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount it seeks is forfeitable," the letter said. A spokesman for the Eastern District declined to comment on whether Guzman had the cash sought by the forfeiture request.

Guzman's attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman of Manhattan, called the attempt to collect $12.7 billion an "exercise in futility." 

"The government has not located a single penny of these supposed drug proceeds and they have been looking for years," Lichtman responded in an email. He said the judge will issue a ruling, but that a forfeiture decision won't lead to "a seizure of even a dollar of Mr. Guzman’s supposed funds."

Based on the drug suppliers who testified in Guzman's 11-week trial, prosecutors estimate the cartel boss sold about 528,276 kilograms of cocaine, valued at $11.8 billion; 423,000 kilograms of marijuana, valued at about $846 million; and 202 kilograms of heroin, valued at $11.1 million. The estimates do not cover other alleged suppliers to the Sinaloa cartel during the decades it smuggled drugs into the United States, federal prosecutors said.

Guzman was convicted after a colorful 2-1/2 month trial that featured a rogues' gallery of 14 federal informants spinning daily telenovela-style episodes of love, greed and betrayal against a backdrop of gunplay, corruption, underground escapes and murders. 

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