He is accused of having a hand in dozens of murders, of using his drug cartel to smuggle more than 200 tonnes of cocaine into the United States, even pulling off running the massive operation from behind bars. That’s when he wasn’t busy escaping from jail — twice.
The almost-mythical criminal pedigree of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who was extradited in 2017 to face U.S. drug conspiracy charges, has sparked security concerns at his upcoming New York City trial that at times have drawn as much attention as the case’s sensational allegations.
Fears for witnesses
Prosecutors say Guzman was in the habit of ordering the killings of anyone who got in his way during his heyday in Mexico as boss of the Sinaloa Cartel.
In his way now is a lineup of government witnesses who survived the wave of violence and are expected to give details about the ruthless way he kept power for 20 years in the cutthroat world of international drug trafficking. The defence says the witnesses are the true bad guys whose testimony shouldn’t be trusted.
The names of the witnesses have been blacked out on court documents, with prosecutors saying their identities need to be protected because their co-operation could put them in the crosshairs of a vengeful cartel. According to court papers, some are being held in special jail units for their protection, while others are in witness protection programs.
The list of people who could turn up on the witness stand is long. Two standout possibilities are twin brothers Pedro and Margarito Flores, former Chicago-based narcotics wholesalers who did business with Guzman before their arrest in 2008. They agreed to co-operate and record phone conversations with Guzman about the size of shipments smuggled on boats and airplanes.
In one, a voice identified as Guzman’s asks, “How much can you get rid of in a month?”
The now imprisoned brothers paid a steep price for flipping: Prosecutors say in 2009 their father was murdered in Mexico by a cartel hit team.
Fortifying the courthouse
At pretrial hearings leading to the trial, heavily armed federal officers and bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled outside. Anyone trying to attend the hearings was put through airport-style metal detectors at the courthouse entrance and at the door of the courtroom itself.
The judge also agreed with prosecutors that the jury for the case should be kept anonymous, a measure typical in terrorism or mob cases where jury intimidation is a concern.