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Federal judge sets start of ‘El Chapo’ trial for Sept. 5

The Mexican drug lord wanted to speak out about jail conditions at his hearing.

Authorities escort Joaquin

Authorities escort Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, center, from a plane on Jan. 19, 2017, to a waiting caravan of SUVs at Long Island MacArthur Airport, in Ronkonkoma. Credit: AP

A Brooklyn federal judge on Thursday set a Sept. 5 date for the start of alleged Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera’s trial on cocaine trafficking charges, but blocked an effort by Guzman to speak in court about his need for funding for his defense.

Eduardo Balarezo, Guzman’s defense lawyer, told U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan at the end of a brief hearing that his client wanted to speak out about how jail conditions were hampering his defense and to personally authorize associates to release money for legal fees.

But after prosecutors objected that Guzman might use the opportunity to get around strict security limits on his communication with outsiders and send a message in code, Cogan told the defense lawyer he should speak and Guzman, sitting a few feet away, could indicate his assent.

Balarezo said Guzman wanted to “clear up media reports” — an apparent reference to Mexican press reports about family resistance to paying for a case seen as a lost cause — and say publicly that he’s “going to trial, he’s not going to cooperate, he’s not going to plead guilty.”

“He wants the family to know they should pay his attorney fees,” Balarezo said. “Sometimes people need to hear it from the horse’s mouth.”

Cogan then had Balarezo ask Guzman if he agreed, and after a brief exchange with his client Balarezo said he did. Guzman’s wife and other family members were in court, and the judge said “the message has been communicated.”

Guzman, 60, the alleged head of the feared Sinaloa cartel, twice escaped from Mexican prisons before he was extradited to Brooklyn a year ago to face charges here that he used intimidation and violence to run a trafficking operation that shipped 20 tons of cocaine into the United States.

His tight security conditions in a Manhattan federal jail, preventing communication with family and associates, have been a sore point ever since. Originally represented by public defenders, he had a hard time hiring private lawyers because of questions about whether money for fees would be seized as alleged drug proceeds.

Outside court, Balarezo said his fees were partially paid by a “friend” of Guzman, but security rules have made it difficult to pass Guzman’s instructions about releasing money needed to fund the fees and expenses for the defense.

He said he wasn’t sure whether the exchange in court would cause the “interested people” to loosen the purse strings.

“We’ll see,” he said.

Later Thursday, the lawyer filed a “script” of what Guzman wanted to say in court, and hopes to tell Cogan at his next court hearing about the need to loosen rules to let him arrange for money.

“If not, my trial will be a farce,” the document said.

Cogan has ruled that the case will be heard by an anonymous and partially sequestered jury when trial starts in September. Guzman’s defense team has asked for reconsideration of that ruling.


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