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No tunnel out for Mexican drug lord El Chapo, facing justice in Brooklyn

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January 20, 2017 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
U.S. Attorney Robert Capers of the Eastern District of New York, center, and other top U.S. officials, announces “El Chapo” Guzman’s arraignment in Brooklyn on Friday. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

The world’s most notorious drug kingpin and prison escape artist, “El Chapo” Guzman, won’t be tunneling his way out jail in New York City, law enforcement officials said at a press conference in Brooklyn on Friday following Guzman’s extradition to New York City.

“In a city that’s foundation is bedrock, as strong as the will of the citizens that live in this city, I assure you, no tunnel will be built leading to his bathroom,” said Angel Melendez, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations, New York field office.

In his most recent escape in Mexico, Guzman crawled through a hole in the floor near his toilet and squeezed out through a mile-long tunnel dug by his employees.

Melendez said that Guzman appeared to be shocked that Mexico had extradited him to the U.S. Thursday night.

“As he deplaned, the most notorious criminal of modern time, as you looked into his eyes, you could see the surprise, you could see the shock, and to a certain extent, you could actually see the fear as the realization started to kick in that he’s about to face American justice,” Melendez said.

Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera, 59, the leader of the Sinaloa cartel who has escaped from prison in Mexico three times, was arraigned in U.S. District Court in Downtown Brooklyn Friday afternoon on a sweeping 17-count indictment.

Guzman’s criminal organization reached from South America to Canada, with operations in almost every major U.S. city. Charges include operating a criminal enterprise from late 1989 to September 2014, corruption, conspiring to murder his rivals, drug importation, illegal use of firearms and money laundering.

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U.S. Attorney Robert Capers of the Eastern District of New York told reporters that Guzman is “finally facing his destiny in the U.S. Eastern District of New York.”

Charles Dunn, U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District, said that Brooklyn’s court system would be well-protected from Guzman and his organization.

“We will preserve the integrity of the judicial process. We will protect the members of the Eastern District of New York family. We will secure this individual in a humane manner and we will bring him to court on time,” Dunn said.

Heavily armed police surrounded the federal courthouse on Cadman Plaza East on Friday, and court insiders said security operations at the courthouse had been significantly beefed up ahead of Guzman’s arrival. The Brooklyn Bridge was briefly shut down as Guzman was transported from a Manhattan jail to Downtown Brooklyn for his arraignment.

Friday’s Wall Street Journal noted that Brooklyn Federal Courthouse was chosen because, as one of the newest rebuilt courthouse in the metropolitan area, it is also the most secure.

Capers said that federal prosecutors and law enforcement personnel from across the U.S. have “tirelessly investigated” Guzman, the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, for more than a decade.

The cartel is responsible for shipping hundreds of thousands of kilograms of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana throughout the U.S. and has reaped billions in profits. The government is seeking $14 billion.

Guzman is not a do-gooder, a Robin Hood or even a famous escape artist, Capers said.

Rather, he is akin to “a small, cancerous tumor that metastasized and grew into a full-blown scourge that for decades littered the streets of Mexico with the casualties of violent drug wars over turf, and the same scourge helped to perpetrate the drug epidemic here in the U.S. and make such cities as Miami and New York ground zero for that epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s,” Capers said.

Guzman faces a sentence of a mandatory life in prison if convicted. The extradition agreement with Mexico bars the death penalty.

“It’s often said in law enforcement that we don’t get the big fish. Well, Joaquin Guzman’s arrival in the U.S. shows that we always do,” said James Hunt, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York office. “All these international drug lords are either dead by the hand of their own people, or foreign law enforcement, or end up in U.S. prisons.”

The bloody turf battles in Mexico, which included the murder of witnesses and the beheading of rivals, resulted in the death of a cardinal in a Catholic Church who was killed in a gun battle at Guadalajara Airport in 1993. Guzman was arrested after that killing and spent the next eight years in prison, “but that didn’t stop the cancer from growing” as he continued to direct his organization from behind bars, Capers said.

Guzman escaped from that prison in 2001 by allegedly hiding in a laundry cart.

The U.S. appreciates Mexico’s assistance in the case, officials said. Southern District of Florida U.S Attorney Alfredo Ferrer told reporters that the United States stands united “with our domestic and foreign partners in our fight against transnational criminal organizations that profit billions of dollars off the toxic spread of illicit drugs.”

Miami has seen firsthand the devastating effect of the drug organization led by Guzman, Ferrer said. “Today’s announcement shows the strength we have when we partner up, like we have done in Miami, in Brooklyn, with the trial attorneys at the Department of Justice and the Mexican government.”

Guzman was indicted before U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan.

Also speaking at Friday’s press conference were Kenneth Blanco, deputy assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice; Bill Sweeney, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York office; NYC Police Commissioner James O’Neill and others.

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