Convicted Mexican cocaine kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera ended a long silence by flashing anger at his sentencing Wednesday in Brooklyn federal court, calling his high-security jail conditions “torture” and complaining about allegations of juror misconduct that marred the end of his trial.
“You denied me a fair trial, where the whole world was watching,” Guzmán, sporting a newly grown mustache and speaking through a translator, told U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan. “What happened here leaves very clear that the United States is no better than any other corrupt country.”
After his comments, Cogan sentenced him to a mandatory sentence of life in prison for using bribery and violence to control a drug smuggling enterprise that trafficked an estimate $14 billion of cocaine into the United States, and an additional 30 years on weapons charges. He also ordered forfeiture of $12.6 billion.
“I have no discretion,” Cogan said. “ … The need for deterrence when a person has done this level of evil is clear.”
Guzmán, 62, who twice escaped prisons in Mexico, is expected to be designated by the federal Bureau of Prisons to the so-called “supermax” jail in Florence, Colorado, to serve his time, but Cogan said he would recommend he stay in New York for 60 days to prepare appeals with his lawyer.
Although the outcome was never in doubt, the sentencing played out in a courtroom packed with the lawyers and international press corps that followed the case during a 2-1/2 month trial that featured 14 informants detailing Guzmán’s intricately organized drug operation backed by payoffs to politicians and generals and grisly murders, and climaxed with his conviction in February.
Guzmán, occasionally smiling toward his wife Emma in her customary second-row seat, disappointed onlookers who hoped for him to cast the case as a politically motivated outgrowth of the war on drugs, and instead started by targeting jail conditions he has objected to since his 2017 extradition.
He said he was held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan in isolation with almost no contact to “hug” his wife and daughters, and had to endure unsanitary water, deprivation of fresh air and sunlight, and air ducts that were so loud at night he had to stuff toilet paper in his ears to sleep.
Guzmán, potentially anticipating his future surroundings, singled out the jail’s guards for praise, but called his experience “cruel and inhumane” treatment. “The conditions of my confinement have been total torture,” he said.
After Guzmán’s February conviction, an anonymous juror told Vice News, an online site, that there was widespread misconduct on the panel, including discussing media reports about Guzmán having sex with minors that was not allowed into evidence and lying to the judge about it.
Cogan’s refusal to order a new trial, or even have a hearing, was Guzmán’s other target. “A member of the jury had told a newspaper they violated the law, that they lied to you,” he said. “In response, you decided to do nothing.”
He asked the judge why he didn’t impose sentence without a trial if the jury didn’t matter, and said the experience had dashed his hopes that he would get justice and a fair trial in America.
“The United States will send me to a prison where my name will never be heard again,” he said. “I want to take this opportunity to say there was no justice here.”
Prosecutor Gina Parlovecchio told Cogan that Guzmán’s comments showed the onetime leader of the powerful Sinaloa cartel didn’t have “one shred of remorse” for victims of the violence of his criminal organization and the drugs it peddled.
The government says trial evidence linked him to 26 murders, and offered the target of one plot — Andrea Vélez, a former member of Guzmán’s organization who became a cooperating witness after she was targeted — to make a victim statement emphasizing the trauma of her experiences.
“If I left the organization, I could only do it in a plastic bag feet first,” she said.
Vélez, according to trial testimony and her statement, ran a modeling agency and was involved with Guzmán in a film project, efforts to bribe a general, and a plot to kidnap an Ecuadoran using her as "bait."
She began cooperating in 2012 and has been sentenced, but federal prosecutors say her case and her deal are still sealed.
“You have two beautiful daughters who you would not like to have happen to them what happened to me,” she told Guzmáan in court.
In addition to the life-plus-30-years prison sentence, Cogan imposed a $1,000 court fee. The imposed a $12.6 billion forfeiture judgment is sought because the government believes he has squirreled away vast wealth.
Afterward, defense lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman told reporters he didn’t know if Guzmán would be sent to the supermax federal prison in Colorado — the “Alcatraz of the Rockies” where inmates spend 23 hours in their cells and have no contact with other prisoners — but predicted the money would never be paid.
“It’s a fiction, it’s part of the show trial,” he told reporters. “There’s no assets, maybe he can write an IOU.”
The defense attorney also said Guzmán’s wife and young daughters were “crushed,” called the case a “show trial” and criticized prosecutors for opposing a hearing on jury misconduct.
“They want him to express remorse,” Lichtman said. “Maybe they should express remorse for not giving a hearing in a case in which half the jury cheated and lied to the judge.”
The government acknowledges that during Guzmán’s time in custody, there has been no drop-off in the volume of drugs coming into the United States from Mexico, and that his sons have inherited his drug operation. But said the life sentence marked an important victory.
“We cannot undo the violence misery and devastation inflicted … as a result of his organization’s sale of tons of illegal drugs for more than two decades,” said Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue, “but we can ensure that he spends every minute of every day in prison.”
Guzmáan excerpts from his sentencing:
“The government of the US is going to send me to a prison where my name will never be heard again. I take this opportunity to say there was no justice here.”
“It has been psychological, emotional, mental torture 24 hours a day. With all due respect, it’s been torture, the most inhumane situation I’ve lived in my life.”
“When I was extradited to the United States, I expected to have a fair trial, where justice would be blind and my fame would not be a determining factor in the administration of justice.”
“A member of a jury had told a newspaper they violated the law, that they lied to you. In response, you decided to do nothing.”
“What you did was you alleged the actions of the jury were not important because there was a lot of evidence against me. Why not sentence me from day one? A jury was not necessary then.”
“You denied me a fair trial, where the whole world was watching…what happened here leaves very clear that the United States is no better than any other corrupt country.”