Brooklyn Boro

El Chapo lawyers say harsh prison conditions affect his mental state

November 8, 2017 By Paul Frangipane Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman at Brooklyn’s federal court with his wife and twin daughters to the right. Court sketch by Shirley Shepard

90,000 pages of evidence released by feds

A Brooklyn federal judge approved a mental evaluation on Wednesday for Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman after his defense team alleged harsh prison conditions were leading to his slipping memory.

Guzman has been under tight security at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center since January, with a frigid 10-by-5 cell, constant artificial lighting, dirty sheets and hardly any contact with anyone but his lawyers.

“I’m alleging that the conditions … are affecting him,” Guzman’s attorney Eduardo Balarezo said. “He’s not remembering certain things. He doesn’t remember names, dates … I want to fix that.”

Balarezo said the court-orderd no-contact evaluation will be performed next week.

At his Wednesday court date, Guzman accepted there was a potential conflict of interest with his newest attorney. He stared at his wife and twin daughters until the proceeding finished, turning back toward the judge to answer questions.

Balarezo represented co-defendant Beltran-Leyva and his relative, but Judge Brian Cogan ruled the conflict was only “potential” and Guzman decided to stick with Balarezo going forward.

Before Guzman smiled and exchanged a wave with his bouncing daughters, prosecutors laid out the schedule of their release of evidence, which has currently exceeded 90,000 pages of documents.

While Balarezo said he was not concerned with the bulk of drug seizure transactions coming one or two months before the April 2018 trial, he opposed receiving cooperating witness evidence only two weeks before each will testify.

“At some point they need to put it on the table so we can prepare for trial,” Balarezo said in the packed courtroom. “I need to be able to do my job.”

“I’m sure you knew when you came onto this case, the trial was going to be challenging,” Cogan told the defense.

Despite the high security and glorified mail slot Guzman has to use to review documents with his lawyers, Balarezo said they want to keep the April 16 trial date.

“We are prepared, we will be prepared and we want to go to trial in April,” Balarezo told reporters outside the court.

Guzman pleaded not guilty to a slew of charges in connection to his alleged leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel, including criminal enterprise, international drug trafficking and kidnapping.

After escaping high-security prisons in Mexico twice, once in a laundry cart and once through a tunnel in his cell, he was extradited to New York in January to be tried in the high-security Brooklyn federal courthouse.

Guzman is scheduled to appear back in court on Jan. 19.