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'El Chapo' asks for better jail conditions

DEA agents escort Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman from

DEA agents escort Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman from a plane to a waiting caravan of SUVs at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma in 2017. The notorious Mexican drug lord, who is awaiting sentencing on his drug trafficking conviction, has asked the court for better jail conditions. Credit: AP

Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera is drinking moldy water, stuffing toilet paper in his ears to block out noise because he can’t get earplugs and suffering “psychological scarring” due to lack of sunlight, according to a new letter asking a Brooklyn federal judge to ease his jail conditions.

Guzmán, awaiting sentencing on his drug trafficking conviction, urged U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan to tell the federal Metropolitan Correction Center in Manhattan to give him earplugs, two hours of outdoor exercise a week, and the right to purchase six bottles of water every week.

The letter filed late Thursday renewed complaints Guzmán has made since his extradition from Mexico in 2017 over being held in isolation in a 10-by-8-foot cell under high-security conditions. The government has said his escapes from two prisons in Mexico justify the restrictions.

“One of the most damaging conditions is the lack of sunlight and fresh air,” defense lawyer Michael Lambert wrote. “This deprivation of sunlight and fresh air, over an excessive 27-month period, is causing psychological scarring.”

Guzmán, 61, a boss of Mexico’s notorious Sinaloa Cartel, was convicted earlier this year of using violence to control a drug empire that trafficked $14 billion of cocaine into the United States. He faces a mandatory life prison term at sentencing June 25, but is seeking a new trial.

The letter to Cogan said he is suffering daily headaches and severe ear pain, and is kept awake at night by an always-on light in his cell and a loud air conditioner, leading to sleep deprivation that could be alleviated by earplugs that Guzmán does not have access to.

The once-feared drug lord, the letter complained, is only permitted five hours a week of exercise in a cell with a stationary bike, and has not experienced sunlight or fresh air for more than two years. Guzmán wants two of his five hours in an outside courtyard on the 12th floor of the jail.

Because of limits on Guzmán’s commissary privileges, the lawyer said, he has only been able to get 22 small bottles of water to drink over the past 6 months, and has been forced to rely on tap water from aging pipes installed when the jail was built in 1975.

“Mr. Guzmán can taste and see mold coming out of the water faucet,” the letter said. “Clearly, this is not the best water to drink, and is likely detrimental to his health as mold exposure can cause a variety of medical issues.”

Lambert asked for full commissary privileges, including access to adequate bottled water.

“These types of restrictions have no relation to the security concerns and they only serve to punish Mr. Guzmán, and further his sense of frustration and isolation,” he wrote.

Cogan ordered prosecutors to respond to the request. A spokesman for the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment.

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