El Chapo has finally been brought down to size.
Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera, whose Spanish nickname means “Shorty,” once ran a drug cartel as big as a country. On Friday, he reduced to standing in a federal courtroom. The Brooklyn chamber was packed with spectators spilling into overflow rooms to watch live the arraignment of the world’s big drug dealer.
There was no mustache to hide his dour countenance as Judge James Orenstein read a 17-count indictment to him. Orenstein explained Chapo’s rights point by point, and asked multiple times if Chapo understood the charges against him.
“Si, señor,” Guzman responded to the judge when he wasn’t speaking through an interpreter.
The leader of the Sinaloa Cartel is accused by federal law enforcement of running the “largest drug trafficking organization in the world” that includes “thousands of members.” In 2014, Guzman escaped from a Mexican prison supposedly through a tunnel dug straight into his shower. Awaiting him on the outside was practically his own government.
“After this escape, Guzman fled to the mountains surrounding Culican, a city in his home state of Sinaloa,” prosecutors wrote in a complaint. “To thwart law enforcement efforts to recapture him, he created an army of hundreds of heavily-armed body guards and fortified his hideaways with military-grade weapons. Guzman also established a complex communications network to allow him to speak covertly with his growing empire without law enforcement detection” including the use of encrypted networks.
It was paid for by astronomical amounts of cocaine.
“All told, the violations set forth in the indictment incorporate 200 metric tons—or 200,000 kilograms—of cocaine that was seized by law enforcement and tied to Guzman and the Sinaloa Cartel,” a detention memo filed along with Guzman’s indictment stated.
Some of the cocaine came to the United States via submarine, prosecutors say, and “billions of dollars in profit” were transported back to Mexico in vehicles with hidden compartments and “through other clandestine means.”
Chapo is charged with continuing criminal enterprise, firearms, money laundering, and multiple drug conspiracy and distribution counts.
Prosecutors said they expect to use physical evidence and “numerous” cooperating witnesses—including leaders of Colombian drug cartels—to put Chapo away.
The complex case will be jointly tried by Florida’s Southern District and the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn federal courthouse. Chapo was represented in court by Michelle Gelernt and Michael Schneider of the Federal Defenders of New York, and the case has been assigned to Judge Brian M. Cogan.
Gelernt entered a plea of not guilty on all 17 counts on Guzman’s behalf. She did not request bail, but the other attorney, Schneider, suggested that “there may be an issue on the charges he was extradited on.” He didn’t clarify what the concern might be.
Guzman was extradited to the U.S. one day before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, after the end of legal battles between Guzman and the Mexican government to keep him from facing justice north of the border.
Part of the reason it’s believed Guzman was sent to the U.S. is because he has escaped Mexican prisons three times: in 1993, again in 2001, and most infamously in 2014.
Chapo is charged alongside Ismael Zambada Garcia, also known as El Mayo, a fellow Sinaloa leader who remains at large.
Although the complaint alleges that Sinaloa hitmen carried out “hundreds of acts of violence,” including killings, at the behest of Guzman and Garcia, neither were charged with murder.