Months after the guilty verdict against him, there have been a number of developments in the case of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
On July 17, 2019, Judge Brian Cogan sentenced El Chapo to life in prison on 10 counts of crimes, including narcotics trafficking and money laundering, as well as crimes related to murder. Though the life sentence was mandatory, prosecutors pushed for the federal judge to add 30 years to his sentence. There is no possibility of parole. U.S. law enforcement authorities did not pursue the death penalty for El Chapo because, as part of the extradition terms agreed to with Mexico, they pledged not to.
This sentencing comes in light of complaints made by El Chapo’s attorneys on the trial itself. Soon after El Chapo’s conviction, his defense team argued that multiple members of the jury violated the judge’s orders by reading outside, non-court-related sources on the trial while they were serving. “Up to five jurors broke the law,” said Jeffrey Lichtman, El Chapo’s defense attorney, “violated the law while they were judging Mr. Guzman for crimes.” While El Chapo’s defense has called for a fresh trial to investigate these allegations of juror misconduct, Judge Cogan has displayed little interest in moving forward on such an issue.
Lichtman went further with his frustrations, stating, “This case was simply an inquisition. It was a show trial, and how it ended is exactly perfect for that description.” El Chapo, he says, plans to appeal the ruling.
However, prosecutors did not end their case there. Alongside El Chapo’s sentence, they seek to strip him of his entire fortune. Reviewing profits that El Chapo obtained through the narcotics trade from the early 1990s to 2016, prosecutors estimated that his fortune ran above $12 billion. Specifically, El Chapo allegedly handled almost 600,000 kilos of cocaine, 200 kilos of heroine, and 420,000 kilos of marijuana. Cocaine brought in the largest profit by far, with authorities estimating that El Chapo earned $11 billion from his trade in the drug alone. Prosecutors, however, realized that it would be all but impossible to understand the total sum of narcotics that El Chapo traded in. As a result, they view these numbers as a “conservative” estimate.
Throughout his escapades, El Chapo proved a highly effective money launderer. He hid portions of his money in the banking system, as well as in an insurance company run by an associate, and in debit cards issued by a Columbian firm called Monodeaux. As a result, he spent lavishly, owning multiple yachts, as well as a private zoo packed with tigers and panthers. Yet even as they have identified how El Chapo laundered his assets, they have not confirmed that they know specifically where those assets are. Though trial testimony revealed that as much as $30 million may be stored in any number of Mexican houses and apartments, little more is publically known beyond that.
All of this appears visible progress in the global effort against the international narcotics trade. And it is. But only to a degree.
Since El Chapo’s arrest and extradition to the U.S., a power vacuum has emerged in Mexico, leaving immense violence in its wake. In their war against the cartels, the U.S. has pursued the so-called Kingpin Strategy, where authorities prioritize taking down cartel leaders to weaken the overall capacity of said cartel, limiting the traffic of drugs, and ultimately, the violence that cartels spawn. Yet the current level of violence crippling Mexico has climbed higher than when El Chapo remained in power. One cartel, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, for example, has sought to fill the former hegemonic role of the Sinaloa Cartel, fighting other cartels in the hope of controlling trade routes through Mexico into the U.S. Though authorities are less surprised that violence has resurged in former hotspots like Acapulco and Tijuana, its rise in the typically-quiet state of Colima has proven less predictable. As frustrated and cynical as authorities have become, they know that they must continue to pursue key figures like El Chapo, as refusing to do so would convey their impunity.
Whatever comes next in the case of El Chapo, the IELR will be there to monitor it.