NEW YORK — Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug lord who pocketed nearly $14 billion as the decadeslong head of the murderous Sinaloa cartel, was found guilty Tuesday of all 10 federal criminal counts against him, including the top charge of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise.
The vast Brooklyn courtroom fell silent as the verdict was read. There was no visible reaction from Guzmán, who faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison. He’s due to be sentenced June 25.
US District Judge Brian Cogan confirmed the verdicts with each of the eight women and four men on the jury, telling them later their conduct on the panel “made me very proud to be an American.”
After the jury left the room, Guzman waved and smiled at his wife, Emma Coronel, a former beauty queen and courtroom regular who smiled back and touched her hand to her heart.
“Good, thank you,” she said when asked how she felt after the verdict.
The partially sequestered and anonymous jury deliberated roughly 34 hours over six days.
“We are obviously disappointed with the jury’s verdict in the trial of Joaquín Guzmán Loera but are respectful of the process and the jury’s decision,” defense attorney Eduardo Balarezo said. “We were faced with extraordinary and unprecedented obstacles in defending Joaquín …”
Another member of the defense team, Jeffrey Lichtman, said they waged a vigorous defense against an “avalanche” of evidence and cooperating witnesses. They plan to file an appeal on a number of issues.
He said Guzman was in good spirits after the verdict.
“He’s a very upbeat guy. He was bringing our spirits up, which was surprising. Usually it’s the other way around,” Lichtman said. “He’s always been a gentleman, always been supportive, always been happy and appreciative of all our efforts.”
US Attorney for Eastern District of New York Richard Donoghue said the case represented a victory for the American people, for Mexican people who had lost loved ones in drug wars, and for every family who has lost someone to drug addiction.
“There are those who say the war on drugs is not worth fighting. Those people are wrong,” he said.
The case, Donoghue said, pulled back the curtain on international drug trafficking in a way no trial ever has, revealing the endemic corruption that allowed the Sinaloa cartel to operate.
“This is a day of reckoning, but there are more days of reckoning to come,” he said.
Gold-plated AK-47s and diamond-encrusted pistols
Guzmán, 61, was convicted of 10 counts, including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to launder narcotics proceeds, international distribution of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and other drugs, and use of firearms.
He 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 remaining drug counts.
Federal prosecutors said they will seek a forfeiture judgment for billions of dollars constituting the cartel’s illegal drug-trafficking proceeds.
Over two and a half months, the jury heard testimony about unspeakable torture and ghastly murders, epic corruption at nearly every level of Mexico’s government, narco-mistresses and naked subterranean escapes, gold-plated AK-47s and monogrammed, diamond-encrusted pistols.
The prosecution’s case featured 200 hours of testimony from 56 witnesses. Fourteen of those witnesses — mostly admitted drug traffickers and cartel associates — cooperated with prosecutors in hopes of reducing their own prison sentences.
There were also surveillance photos, intercepted phone calls and text messages involving Guzmán, as well as exhibits of blingy firepower and bricks of cocaine that dropped with the force of potato sacks.
In contrast, defense attorneys called just one witness and focused on undermining the credibility of cooperating witnesses. Defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said these witnesses had “lied every day of their lives — their miserable, selfish lives.”
Guzmán, once listed on Forbes’ Billionaires List, has long been a slippery and near-mythical figure. He escaped from a Mexican prison in 2001 in a laundry cart and again in 2015 through a tunnel. After he was recaptured in 2016, he was extradited to the US to face American federal charges.
The high-profile trial centered on the struggles and actions of El Chapo, who came from humble origins in the heart of Mexico’s rugged three-state Golden Triangle to become its most infamous native son.
The 12-week proceedings were conducted in part during the partial government shutdown over funding for a border wall. It showed that such fortification would have failed to stop tons of drugs the cartel moved from Mexico to the United States via fishing boats, trains, tractor-trailers, radar-evading airplanes, passenger cars at legal ports of entry, submarines, oil tankers, cocaine-laden cans of jalapeños and cross-border tunnels.
It included stunning testimony of corruption at nearly every echelon of Mexico’s government, from police and military commanders to local and state officials to former presidents who vehemently denied the allegations.
Under El Chapo, the Sinaloa cartel smuggled narcotics to wholesale distributors in Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York. , Experts have said that Guzmán’s capture in 2016, extradition one year later and conviction this week has not — and will not — diminish the power and reach of the Sinaloa cartel.