JOAQUIN “EL CHAPO’ GUZMAN, SINALOA CARTEL LEADER, CONVICTED OF RUNNING A CONTINUING CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE AND OTHER DRUG-RELATED CHARGES
WASHINGTON – Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera, known by various aliases, including “El Chapo” and “El Rapido,” was convicted on Tuesday Feb. 12, by a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York of being a principal operator of a continuing criminal enterprise – the Mexican organized crime syndicate known as the Sinaloa Cartel – a charge that includes 26 drug-related violations and one murder conspiracy. Guzman Loera was convicted of all 10 counts of a superseding indictment, including narcotics trafficking, using a firearm in furtherance of his drug crimes and participating in a money laundering conspiracy. The verdict followed a 12-week trial before U.S. District Judge Brian M. Cogan. Guzman Loera faces a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment at his sentencing scheduled on June 25.
Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue for the Eastern District of New York, U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan for the Southern District of Florida, Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), FBI Director Christopher Wray, Executive Associate Director Derek Benner of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Acting U.S. Marshal Bryan T. Mullee of the Eastern District of New York, announced the verdict.
The Evidence at Trial:
As proven at trial, Guzman Loera was a principal leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, a Mexico-based international drug trafficking organization responsible for importing and distributing vast quantities of cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin into the United States. The 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, detailed the drug trafficking activity of Guzman Loera and his co-conspirators over a 25-year period from January 1989 until December 2014. Guzman Loera was repeatedly referred to by witnesses as one of the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Guzman Loera oversaw the smuggling of narcotics to wholesale distributors in Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and elsewhere. The billions of illicit dollars generated from drug sales in the United States were then clandestinely transported back to Mexico. Guzman Loera also used “sicarios,” or hit men, who carried out 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.
In the course of the decades-long drug trafficking conspiracy, the Sinaloa Cartel transported tens of thousands of kilograms of narcotics from Central and South America for distribution in the United States. Guzman Loera used various methods to transport the cartel’s narcotics into the United States, including submarines, carbon fiber airplanes, trains with secret compartments and transnational underground tunnels. Multiple witnesses testified about seizures by law enforcement officers of massive amounts of cocaine, heroin and marijuana linked to the Sinaloa Cartel. One of the largest seizures of drugs bound for the United States involved over seven tons of cocaine concealed in jalapeño cans.
The jury also heard recordings of Guzman Loera’s own damning words discussing his drug trafficking, corruption and violence. The calls included Guzman Loera discussing sending “ice,” meaning methamphetamine, to Los Angeles, California; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Ohio and Tucson, Arizona.
Guzman Loera also utilized a sophisticated encrypted communications network to operate the global narcotics trafficking operation. As an information technology engineer testified at trial, Guzman Loera paid him one million dollars to purchase and set up a network to enable the defendant to communicate via the internet with his drug trafficking associates in Colombia, Ecuador, Canada and the United States without fear of being intercepted by law enforcement or his rivals. The witness devised a secret and secure system, consisting of encrypted cell phones and encrypted apps.
The success of the Sinaloa Cartel relied upon the use of violence to maintain their power throughout the region and beyond. Numerous co-conspirators testified that Guzman Loera directed his hitmen to kidnap, interrogate, torture and shoot members of rival drug organizations, at times carrying out acts of violence himself. A former hitman testified that Guzman Loera beat two men with a tree branch until their bodies “were completely like rag dolls,” before shooting the men and ordering their bodies be tossed into a bonfire. The former hitman also testified that Guzman Loera interrogated a rival drug cartel member, shot him and ordered that he be buried alive. In an intercepted call, the jury heard Guzman Loera order one of his sicarios to kidnap rival cartel members, but not to kill them without first checking with him.
The Sinaloa Cartel had unfettered access to weapons. A law enforcement witness showed the jury over 40 AK-47s that were seized in El Paso, Texas before they could be delivered to Guzman Loera in Mexico. Additionally, witnesses identifed photographs of various weapons, including grenades and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher utilized by the Sinaloa Cartel. Guzman Loera’s personal arsenal included a gold plated AK-47 and three diamond-encrusted .38 caliber handguns, one emblazoned with his initials, “JGL.”
The evidence presented at trial demonstrated that to further the interests of the Sinaloa Cartel, Guzman Loera and his organization took advantage of a vast network of corrupt government officials. These officials ranged from local law enforcement officers, prison guards, state officials, high ranking members of the armed forces, as well as politicians. These corrupt officials assisted Guzman Loera and his organization in exchange for millions of dollars’ worth of bribery payments. For example, according to the testimony of several witnesses, in many instances, Guzman Loera and his workers were warned of pending law enforcement operations which allowed Guzman Loera to avoid capture on multiple occasions. In other instances, Guzman Loera, through his employees, paid officials to turn a blind eye to trafficking activities in an effort to facilitate the shipment of drugs, weapons, and bulk cash.
Guzman Loera’s lucrative drug trafficking business generated billions of dollars in illicit proceeds. Guzman Loera used various methods to launder money including bulk cash smuggling from the United States to Mexico. One of the largest seizures was of $1.26 million seized from hidden compartments in a truck driven by Guzman Loera’s brother in Douglas, Arizona in 1989. In addition to the bulk cash smuggling, Guzman Loera oversaw numerous shell companies, including a juice company and a fish flour company to launder the cartel’s narcotics trafficking proceeds.
“I am pleased that the Department has brought Joaquin Guzman Loera (El Chapo) to justice by securing a conviction against this drug kingpin, who was a principal leader of the Sinaloa Cartel,” said Acting Attorney General Whitaker. “As was clear to the jury, Guzman Loera’s massive, multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise was responsible for flooding the streets of the United States with hundreds of tons of cocaine, as well as enormous quantities of other dangerous drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine. The trial evidence also overwhelmingly showed that Guzman’s unceasing efforts to expand his cartel’s control and consolidate its power left a wake of corruption and violence in communities in both Mexico and the United States. This case demonstrated the extraordinary reach of the U.S. government, our tenacity and commitment to pursuing kingpins like Guzman whom — if their power is unchecked — will, like Guzman, develop what for 25 years was an almost unstoppable capacity to move massive quantities of drugs into our country. Guzman had the capital to absorb huge losses and run his enterprise with impunity; the enormous power to corrupt; and the capability to employ violence on a massive scale. This case, and more importantly, this conviction serves as an irrefutable message to the kingpins that remain in Mexico, and those that aspire to be the next Chapo Guzman, that eventually you will be apprehended and prosecuted. Finally, this verdict demonstrates that the United States, working in close partnership with the Mexican government, will continue to bring all possible resources to bear in its fight against international drug traffickers and their violent organizations.”
“The guilty verdict against Joaquin Guzman Loera, one of the most violent and feared drug kingpins of our time, is a testament to the hard work and courage of America’s frontline law enforcement personnel, including ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations,” said DHS Secretary Nielsen. “They gathered substantial evidence over multiple investigations, which made his extradition to the United States and a successful prosecution possible. Today’s verdict sends an unmistakable message to transnational criminals: you cannot hide, you are not beyond our reach, and we will find you and bring you to face justice. Like Guzman, you will suffer the consequences of your criminal behavior. I applaud the brave men and women at DHS who helped make this conviction possible and thank our interagency and international partners for their exceptional work.”
“Guzman Loera’s bloody reign atop the Sinaloa Cartel has come to an end, and the myth that he could not be brought to justice has been laid to rest,” said U.S. Attorney Donoghue. “Today, Guzman Loera has been held accountable for the tons of illegal narcotics he trafficked for more than two decades, the murders he ordered and committed, and the billions of dollars he reaped while causing incalculable pain and suffering to those devastated by his drugs. Today’s verdict is the culmination of the tireless work of countless brave members of law enforcement, here and abroad, and we congratulate them. The Department of Justice is committed to eradicating criminal organizations that fuel America’s drug epidemic, and our mission will continue until it is completed.”
“The conviction of former Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin Guzman Loera strips the power from a man who employed horrific acts of violence to infect communities, throughout the United States and abroad, with the venom of illicit drugs,” said U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan. “Today’s verdict is a reminder to all, that our international borders do not protect narco-traffickers and the cartels’ criminal enterprises from federal prosecution. U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the nation stand united with our domestic and foreign law enforcement partners, as we continue our fight against transnational criminal organizations.”
“The reign of Joaquin Guzman Loera’s crime and violence has come to an end,” said FBI Director Wray. “As leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Guzman Loera carried out and directed acts of brazen violence as he oversaw the import and distribution of vast amounts of illegal drugs throughout the United States. But today, through the steadfast determination and collective efforts of the FBI and our law enforcement partners both domestic and abroad, and due to our continuing partnership with the Government of Mexico, justice has been served.”
“Today’s conviction of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman demonstrates the dedication and determination of the men and women of DEA to bring the world’s most dangerous and prolific drug trafficker to justice,” said DEA Acting Administrator Dhillon. “Those who bring drugs and violence into the United States that destroy lives and communities will not be tolerated, nor evade our reach. The success of this case is a testament to the strength of our relationship with our Mexican counterparts. DEA will continue to pursue justice worldwide and protect Americans.”
“HSI is committed to using our unique border authority to target and dismantle transnational criminal organizations responsible for trafficking narcotics and bringing violence into the United States,” said HSI Executive Associate Director Benner. “Through collaboration with local, federal and international law enforcement partners, HSI special agents were able to bring an end to Joaquin Guzman Loera’s criminal activities, and help ensure he was brought to justice.”
“The conviction of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman demonstrates what is possible when law enforcement works collectively and coordinates their efforts,” said Acting U.S. Marshal Mullee. “The U.S. Marshals Service ensured the integrity of the judicial process in this case. From providing safe and secure detention and transportation of the world’s most notorious drug kingpin to ensuring the anonymity of the jury, protecting the judge, attorneys, witnesses and the public, the Marshals Service proudly played its important role in the process. I would like to express my gratitude to all of our law enforcement partners who worked tirelessly in support of our mission. They are the talented men and women of the New York City Police Department, Federal Protective Service, 24th Civil Support Team of the New York National Guard, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The U.S. Marshals take our responsibility of protecting the federal judicial process very seriously. We must anticipate and deter threats, while continuously developing and employing innovative protective tactics. We carry out these responsibilities with precision every day across the country. The successful prosecution of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman stands as a shining example of our mission.”
When sentenced by Judge Cogan, Guzman Loera 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. After the verdict, the government will seek a forfeiture money judgment for billions of dollars constituting the cartel’s illegal drug-trafficking proceeds.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by U.S. Department of Justice Trial Attorneys Amanda Liskamm, Anthony Nardozzi, Michael Lang and Brett Reynolds of the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gina Parlovecchio, Andrea Goldbarg, Michael Robotti, Patricia Notopoulos and Hiral Mehta of the Eastern District of New York and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Adam Fels and Lynn Kirkpatrick of the Southern District of Florida.
The case was investigated by the DEA, HSI and the FBI, in cooperation with Mexican, Ecuadorian, Netherlands, Dominican, and Colombian law enforcement authorities. Substantial assistance was provided by the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in the Northern District of Illinois, the Western District of Texas, the Southern District of New York, the Southern District of California and the District of New Hampshire. The Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs also played an integral role in securing the extradition of Guzman Loera to the United States, in cooperation with authorities of the Mexican government, without which his extradition and prosecution would not have been possible. The investigative efforts in this case were coordinated with the Department of Justice’s Special Operations Division, comprising of agents, analysts and attorneys from the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section; DEA New York, DEA Miami, FBI Washington Field Office, FBI New York Field Office, FBI Miami Field Office; HSI New York, HSI Nogales; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Marshals Service; IRS Criminal Investigation; U.S. Bureau of Prisons, NYPD and New York State Police.
This case is the result of the ongoing efforts by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a partnership that brings together the combined expertise and unique abilities of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, dismantle and prosecute high level members of drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering organizations and enterprises.