Justice

'El Chapo' trial puts drug lord's love life, business dealings on full display

"El Chapo" in blue uniform stands near police.

Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán is escorted by soldiers during a presentation at the office of the Attorney General in Mexico City, Mexico, Jan. 8, 2016. 

Credit:

Edgard Garrido/Reuters

A US jury has found Mexican drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán guilty of running a criminal enterprise on Tuesday, after an 11-week trial in New York that put the infamous gangster's personal life and business dealings on public display. The case has also highlighted Mexico's longtime fight to bring down its chief adversary in the bloody war on drug trafficking.

Mexico's most notorious kingpin, Guzmán shipped tons of drugs around the world, escaped two maximum-security prisons and became one of the world's most-wanted fugitives.

Joaquín Guzmán was convicted on all 10 criminal charges. US prosecutors said he had amassed a $14 billion fortune through bribery, murder and drug smuggling.

A number of Guzmán's former associates took the stand to bolster the prosecution's case, including one who said she was his lover and another whose brother was among his top allies, as well as law enforcement officers.

Defense lawyers said the 61-year-old Guzmán, whose nickname means "Shorty," was set up as a scapegoat.

The following are some of the most colorful tales the jury heard:

His own words

Guzmán's voice was "sing-songy" with a "nasally undertone," said FBI agent Steven Marston.

In one recorded call, Guzmán tells an associate, "Don't be so harsh ... take it easy with the police." The partner responds: "You taught us to be a wolf."

"Our Kiki is fearless. ... I'm going to give her an AK-47 so she can hang with me."

Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Mexican drug lord, speaking about one of his daughters in a text message to his wife

Text messages between Guzmán and his wife, Emma Coronel, often turned to family matters. "Our Kiki is fearless," Guzmán wrote in one, referring to one of their daughters. "I'm going to give her an AK-47 so she can hang with me." After Coronel once said she saw a suspicious car, Guzmán wrote to her, "You go ahead and lead a normal life. That's it." Later he reminds her: "Make sure you delete everything after we're done chatting."

In one of the trial's final days, Guzmán told the judge he would not testify in his own defense. The same day, he grinned broadly at audience member Alejandro Edda, the Mexican actor who plays Guzmán in the Netflix television drama "Narcos."

Just days after his 2016 capture, Guzmán's larger-than-life reputation was sealed when US movie star Sean Penn published a lengthy account of an interview he conducted with the drug lord, which the Mexican government said was "essential" to his capture a few months later.

Lovers and business 

Multiple "wives" visited Guzmán when he was hiding in Sinaloa, said Alex Cifuentes, a former close partner. 

"I didn't want for him to mistrust me because I thought he could also hurt me. ... I was confused about my own feelings over him. Sometimes I loved him and sometimes I didn't."

Lucero Sanchez Lopez, former Mexican lawmaker and former lover of "El Chapo" 

Lucero Sanchez Lopez, a former Mexican lawmaker, told jurors she once had a romantic relationship with Guzmán, who sent her to buy and ship marijuana. "I didn't want for him to mistrust me because I thought he could also hurt me," she said. "I was confused about my own feelings over him. Sometimes I loved him and sometimes I didn't."

Agustina Cabanillas, a partner of Guzmán who called him "love," set up drug deals by passing information between Guzmán and others. In one message, Cabinillas called Guzmán a "jerk" who was trying to spy on her. "Guess what? I'm smarter than him," she wrote.

High levels of corruption 

Guzmán's Sinaloa Cartel paid bribes, some in the millions of dollars, to Mexican officials at every level, said Jesus Zambada, the brother of Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, who worked alongside El Chapo and is still at large.

Beneficiaries included a high-ranking police official who fed Guzmán information on police activities "every day," said Miguel Angel Martinez, a former cartel manager.

Guzmán once paid $100 million to former President Enrique Peña Nieto, Cifuentes said. Peña Nieto has denied taking any bribes.

When imprisoned in Mexico in 2016, Guzmán bribed a national prison official $2 million to be transferred to a different facility, but the move was unsuccessful.

Murder 

After a rival cartel member declined to shake Guzmán's hand, he ordered the man killed, fueling a war between the cartels, Zambada said.

When assassins reporting to Guzmán killed a police officer who worked for a rival, Zambada said, they lured him out of his house by pretending they had hit his son with a car.

Guzmán ordered Cifuentes to kill the cartel's communications expert after learning he was cooperating with the FBI. But Cifuentes said he was unable to carry out the hit because he did not know the man's last name.

When Damazo Lopez Nunez, a top lieutenant to Guzmán, told his boss that a Mexican mayor wanted them to "remove" a troublesome police officer, Guzmán told him they should do her the favor because the mayor was a favorite for an upcoming state election, Lopez testified. He said Guzmán told him to make the killing look like revenge from a gang member.

Lopez also said Guzmán's sons killed a prominent reporter in Sinaloa because he published an article about cartel infighting against their wishes.

One of Guzmán's former bodyguards, Isaias Valdez Rios, said he watched his boss personally kill three rival cartel members. Guzmán shot one of them and ordered his underlings to bury the man while he was gasping for air. On another occasion, Guzmán tortured two men for hours before shooting them each in the head and ordering their bodies tossed into a flaming pit.

Guzmán's legendary reputation in the Mexican underworld began taking shape when he staged his first jailbreak in 2001 by bribing prison guards, before going on to dominate drug trafficking along much of the Rio Grande.

However, many in towns across Mexico remember Guzmán better for his squads of hit men who committed thousands of murders, kidnappings and decapitations.

Violence began to surge in 2006 as the government launched a war on drug trafficking that splintered criminal groups and sent killings spiraling. Mexico has registered more than 250,000 homicides since then, including a record number of killings last year.

Guzmán's Sinaloa Cartel went on smuggling hundreds of tonnes of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and crystal meth across Mexico's border with the United States.

In February 2013, the Chicago Crime Commission dubbed him the city's first Public Enemy No. 1 since Al Capone.

Safe houses and escapes 

For a period of Guzmán's time as a fugitive in Sinaloa, in northern Mexico, his posse lived in "humble pine huts" with tinted windows, satellite televisions and washer-dryers, Cifuentes said. About 50 guards formed three rings around the homes to keep watch.

"I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world. I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats," Sean Penn said Guzmán told him at the drug lord's mountain hideout.

Guzmán escaped into a tunnel hidden beneath a bathtub when US agents raided one of his homes in 2014, said Sanchez, his lover. She followed Guzmán, who was completely naked, into the passage, feeling water trickle down her legs. "It was very dark and I was very scared," she said.

Guzmán's wife helped her husband tunnel out of a Mexican prison in 2015 by passing messages to his associates, Lopez testified. She unsuccessfully tried to help him duplicate the escape when he was captured the next year.

Waging war

Between 2004 and 2013, Guzmán's gangs fought in all major Mexican cities on the US border, turning Ciudad Juarez and Nuevo Laredo into some of the world's most dangerous places.

In one such attack, 14 bodies were left mutilated under a note that read, "Don't forget that I am your real daddy," signed by "El Chapo."

Guzmán's Sinaloa cartel often clashed with the Zetas, a gang founded by former Mexican soldiers, arming its crew with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns.

In 2008, hit men working for a rival murdered Guzmán son Edgar, a 22-year-old student. Guzman reportedly left 50,000 flowers at his son's grave.

In the 1990s, Guzmán became infamous for hiding several tons of cocaine in cans of chili peppers. In the following decade, his crew took drugs in tractor-trailer trucks to major US cities, including Phoenix, Los Angeles and Chicago, indictments say.

Forbes magazine put the kingpin's wealth at $1 billion, though investigators say it is impossible to know exactly how much Guzmán was worth.

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