On February 12, 2019, a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York convicted Joaquin Achivaldo Guzman Loera, known as “El Chapo”, of leading a continuing criminal enterprise – the Mexican organized crime syndicate – commonly known as the Sinaloa Cartel. In particular, he was convicted of 26 drug-related violations and one murder conspiracy. He was convicted of all 10 counts of a superseding indictment, including narcotics trafficking, using a firearm in furtherance of his enterprise, and participating in a money laundering conspiracy. As the U.S. Justice Department press release discusses, the verdict came after a 12-week trial before U.S. District Judge Brian M. Cogan. El Chapo faces a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment at his sentencing schedule on June 25.
El Chapo was convicted of serving as the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, which is an international drug trafficking organization responsible for importing and distributing huge quantities of cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin in the U.S. The prosecution introduced evidence at trial, including testimony from 14 cooperating witnesses, narcotics seizures totaling over 130,000 kilograms of cocaine and heroin; weapons, including AK-47s and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher; ledgers; text messages; videos; photographs; and intercepted recordings. The evidence focused on the drug trafficking activity of El Chapo and his co-conspirators over a 25-year period from January 1989 until December 2014.
Testimony was that El Chap oversaw the clandestine transportation of narcotics to U.S. wholesale distributors and the return of billions of illicit dollars generated from U.S. drug sales. El Chapo employed “sicarios” or hit men, who committed hundreds of acts of violence in Mexico to enforce Sinaloa’s control of territories and to eliminate those who posed a threat to the Sinaloa Cartel.
The evidence was that the Cartel smuggled tens of thousands of kilograms of narcotics through submarines, carbon fiber airplanes, trains with secret compartments, and transnational underground tunnels.
El Chapo employed a sophisticated encrypted communications network to operate his syndicate. He paid an information technology engineer one million dollars to buy and set up a network so that El Chapo could communicate by internet with his drug trafficking associates in Colombia, Ecuador, Canada and the U.S. without fear of the interception of his calls El Chapo used encrypted cell phones and apps.
Various co-conspirators testified that El Chapo directed his hitmen to kidnap, interrogate, torture, and shoot members of rival drug organizations, at times carrying out acts of violence himself.
The evidence showed that El Chapo and his organization used a vast network of corrupt government officials, including local law enforcement officers, prison guards, state officials, high ranking members of the armed forces, and politicians.
El Chapo’s business produced billions of dollars in illicit proceeds and used various methods to launder money, including bulk cash smuggling. At one point, U.S. law enforcement seized $1.26 million from hidden compartments in a truck driven by El Chapo’s brother in Douglas, Arizona in 1989. El Chapo oversaw numerous shell companies, including a juice company and a fish flour company to launder the cartel’s narcotics trafficking proceeds.
El Chapo faces a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for leading a continuing criminal enterprise, and a sentence of up to life imprisonment on the seven remaining drug counts. The government will seek a forfeiture money judgment for billions of dollars constituting the cartel’s illegal drug-trafficking proceeds.
El Chapo was a mythical dark folk hero, notorious for his innovative smuggling operations, his violence against competitors, his prison breaks using intricate tunnels, and the inability of law enforcement to capture him once he escaped from prison, even though he gave media interviews. When law enforcement did find his hiding places, El Chapo often escaped through secret compartments leading under the houses where he stayed, making his way through the sewer system to freedom.
The conviction signals a major achievement of bilateral law enforcement cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico although the dominance of El Chapo and the Sinaloa Cartel will be immediately replaced by other cartels, so long as the demand exists in the U.S.
The IELR this month will have a more comprehensive article on the case.