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Judge rules against moving trial for drug kingpin ‘El Chapo’ out of Brooklyn

Defense attorney complained about closing the Brooklyn Bridge

August 14, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman will stand trial in Brooklyn starting in November. AP file photo by Eduardo Verdugo
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Brooklyn federal court judge Brian Cogan ruled against a motion by the defense of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to move his trial out of Brooklyn and into Manhattan during a hearing Tuesday morning at the Eastern District of NY courthouse.

Guzman’s defense attorney A. Eduardo Balarezo had requested a change in venue from Brooklyn to Manhattan because transporting Guzman creates a spectacle and disrupts commuting New Yorkers, which he contends could potentially taint the jury pool.

That spectacle is a result of the Brooklyn Bridge being closed each time Guzman has to appear in court.

“The government transported Mr. Guzman to the MCC [Metropolitan Correctional Center] in a multi-vehicle motorcade that included several marked police cars, black Suburban SUVs, an ambulance and an emergency response vehicle,” Balarezo wrote about process of transporting Guzman in and out of his holding cell.

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Balarezo later added, “In this case, the unprecedented, highly visible and disruptive security measures taken by the government every time it transports Mr. Guzman, are likely to be seen or heard about by innumerable potential and seated jurors and run the precise risk the Supreme Court warned against: that Mr. Guzman, while presumed innocent, is already considered by authorities to be an extreme danger to the community.”

There were as many as seven federal courts that tried to host Guzman’s trial when he was initially extradited to the U.S. It is believed that the trial was ultimately sent to Brooklyn due to its history with prosecuting complex drug cases and its connection to Loretta Lynch, the former U.S. attorney who became attorney general under former President Barack Obama.

While the trial is being held in Brooklyn, Guzman is being held in prison in Manhattan because MCC is generally believed to be much more secure than the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, and Guzman has broken out of prison twice.

The judge didn’t explain his reasoning for denying the request, but said that the court would try to address the logistical concerns of transporting Guzman.

Moving Guzman from the Manhattan prison to a Brooklyn prison likely wouldn’t work because while shutting down half of the Brooklyn Bridge each time Guzman is transported sounds excessive, the trip from the EDNY courthouse to MCC in Manhattan is less than half the distance of the trip from the EDNY to MDC in Brooklyn. Transporting him from Sunset Park to Downtown Brooklyn would require shutting down the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway or local streets.

Other topics discussed at Tuesday’s conference included issues of discovery and issues of evidence. Defense attorneys have also pressed the government about witnesses that will testify at trial.

Prosecutors said Tuesday that they expect that the trial, which is expected to begin in Nov., will last approximately sixteen weeks. Guzman is due back in court on Sept. 20 for another status conference.

Guzman, who was extradited to the U.S. from Mexico in January 2017, has pleaded not guilty to a 17-count indictment that accused him of operating a vast criminal enterprise that is suspected of murder conspiracies, drug trafficking and money laundering. Prosecutors are seeking life in prison.

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