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Government witness at 'El Chapo' trial tells of his criminal past

During his second day of testimony at the trial of accused cocaine kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera, Jorge Milton Cifuentes-Villa testifies that he was a successful drug smuggler but a failed hands-on assassin.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, center, is escoretd

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, center, is escoretd from a plane to a waiting caravan of SUVs at Long Island MacArthur Airport, in Ronkonkoma. Guzmán, now 58, who is accused of running a $14 billion drug empire, turned out to be a quixotic boss, impatiently ordering that shipments be made even though U.S. and Latin American law enforcement officials were prepared to intercept the loads, a witness testified. Photo Credit: AP

He might have made his mark as a drug smuggler but as a hands-on assassin Jorge Milton Cifuentes-Villa admitted he didn’t have much luck.

Testifying as a government witness Wednesday in the trial of accused cocaine kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera,  Cifuentes-Villa described how, in his long varied life as a criminal, he once was tasked at age 18 with the job of killing a fellow inmate in a Colombia prison in 1984. Cifuentes-Villa said he was given a number of ways of killing the man, including the use of poison, a knife, a grenade or a gun. Nothing went well.

Using poison as the first option, Cifuentes-Villa said he tried sprinkling arsenic on arepas, a prison breakfast pastry. But the intended victim didn’t eat the tainted morsel. Cifuentes-Villa then tossed a hand grenade into the cell. The device exploded but the concrete bed helped shield the victim, who suffered only shrapnel wounds, Cifuentes-Villa said.

“He got scared,” Cifuentes-Villa testified about his intended victim, adding that he then gave up on killing the man.

Testifying for a second day in Brooklyn federal court, Cifuentes-Villa told the jury the botched assassination attempt was just one of the crimes he committed as a drug trafficker, including years of close association with Guzmán. Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Fels, Cifuentes-Villa acknowledged that he was responsible for ordering three killings. He also told about arranging massive shipments of cocaine for Guzmán.

But Guzmán, now 58 and accused of running a $14 billion drug empire, turned out to be a quixotic boss, impatiently ordering that shipments be made even though U.S. and Latin American law enforcement officials were prepared to intercept the loads, Cifuentes-Villa said. While one shipment of 6,000 kilograms of cocaine from Ecuador made it to the United States through Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel, two other shipments of equal or greater weight were intercepted by the U.S. Navy and Ecuadorian military forces, Cifuentes-Villa said.

The 52-year-old witness said that he learned one 6,000 kilogram shipment might be intercepted by the U.S. Navy and told Guzmán who insisted that it be sent anyway. The cocaine was shipped from Ecuador in fast boats that rendezvoused with a Peruvian vessel without incident.

“We were all happy,” recalled Cifuentes-Villa.

But three days later news came that the vessel had been seized by the U.S. Navy with the entire shipment lost, he said.

Rather than send out another shipment with only 6,500 kilograms, Guzmán wanted to wait until it had a full 8,000 kilograms, Cifuentes-Villa said. That delay led to the entire shipment being seized by the Ecuadorian military in 2009 near the city of Quito, Cifuentes-Villa said.

In his testimony, Cifuentes-Villa described a pattern of bribes of Ecuadorian and Colombian military officials to make sure drugs got through. But he had certain standards. When Guzmán asked him to secure chemical precursors to make methamphetamines, Cifuentes-Villa said no because it was a very harmful drug for children. Some of his relatives provided the materials, he said.

Cifuentes-Villa is expected to take the stand again on Thursday in a trial that is expected to go on for months.

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