Brooklyn Bridge might shut down to shuttle ‘El Chapo’ to trial today

Jury selection was set to begin Monday in New York in the drug trafficking trial of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the legendary drug lord whose electrifying escape from a Mexican prison captured the imagination of the world.

Security surrounding Guzman was so tight the Brooklyn Bridge was closed to transport him to from his high-security cell in Manhattan to pretrial hearings at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn. The judge has said he would try to develop alternative logistics so the bridge would not be closed twice a day for the trial that is expected to last four months.

Still, the courthouse will be a fortress, encircled by heavily armed officers an bomb-sniffing dogs. Juror’s names won’t be released and the identities of most witnesses also are being withheld.

Guzman, 61, is charged with 17 criminal counts that include trafficking drugs and conspiring to murder rivals, money laundering and weapons offenses. Prosecutors say Guzman ruthlessly led one of the world’s biggest drug cartels, smuggling more than 200 tons of cocaine into the U.S. 

Guzman’s lawyers dismiss the claims as the testimony of killers and drug dealers. And despite prosecution claims that Guzman’s operation earned more than $14 billion, his lawyers say he has struggled to pay his legal bills.

Opening statements are scheduled for November 13.

El Chapo made world headlines in July 2015 when he slipped out of his cell at the maximum security Altiplano federal prison to freedom via a mile-long tunnel. The dramatic escape prompted a worldwide manhunt that concluded six months later following a deadly shootout in Los Mochis, a coastal city in Guzman’s home state of Sinaloa.

Then-Attorney General Arely Gómez González had said the search drew few valuable clues until Guzman reached out to actors and producers and began planning a biopic. That tipped off investigators to his location, and Gómez said a journey to the rugged Sierra Madre by American actor Sean Penn put them on Guzman’s doorstep.

El Chapo — meaning “Shorty” for his 5-foot-6 stature — has been an iconic figure in the drug trade for decades. He was first captured in Guatemala in 1993 and was extradited to Mexico. He was serving a 20-year sentence on drug-trafficking charges in a different prison when he pulled off an equally intricate escape in 2001. He was recaptured in Mexico in February 2014.

His grip on the multibillion-dollar cartel remained strong. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says he was able to remain a force by communicating with his son and other cartel leaders through lawyers and others who visited him at the Altiplano prison outside Mexico City.

Guzman was extradited to the U.S. in January 2017 on an indictment detailing his alleged reign over a merciless trafficking organization ruled through murder and torture.

“Guzman Loera is accused of using violence, including torture and murder, to maintain an iron-fisted grip on the drug trade across the U.S.-Mexico border,” said then-U.S. Attorney Robert Capers at the time. “Guzman Loera made billions of illicit dollars. This prosecution demonstrates that we will apply all available resources to dismantle the leadership of dangerous drug cartels, wherever they operate, and will not rest until we have done so.”

Contributing: Associated Press

 

 

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