On Tuesday, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug kingpin known as El Chapo, was convicted on drug conspiracy charges in Federal District Court in Brooklyn. This followed an exhaustive three-month trial in which the prosecution dissected almost every detail of Mr. Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel.
After more than a week of deliberations, jurors found Mr. Guzmán guilty on all 10 charges. Here’s what you need to know about the conviction and what lies ahead for El Chapo.
Why does this matter?
Mr. Guzmán is arguably the most important drug-related figure ever brought to trial in the United States. Prosecutors estimated that in his 30 years as a trafficker, Mr. Guzmán accumulated nearly $14 billion in earnings.
Prosecutors described his conviction as a watershed moment in America’s war on drugs.
“This trial has pulled back the curtain on international drug dealing in a way that no other trial has,” said Richard P. Donoghue, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “It revealed that Guzmán and his co-conspirators were responsible for smuggling hundreds of tons of cocaine, heroine, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States. It also revealed that they were only able to operate on that scale because of endemic corruption. This is unacceptable and it will end. This is a day of reckoning. But there are more days of reckoning to come.”
What exactly did El Chapo get convicted of?
Mr. Guzmán was convicted on 10 counts:
1. Engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise
2. International cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana manufacture and distribution conspiracy
3, 4. Cocaine importation conspiracy
5, 6, 7, 8. International distribution of cocaine
9. Use of firearms
10. Conspiracy to launder narcotics proceeds
For each count, jurors had to answer a series of questions with “guilty or not guilty,” “proven or not proven,” or simply “yes or no.” Jurors checked “guilty,” “proven” or “yes” in 51 of the 53 boxes.
The only counts the jury found Mr. Guzman not guilty of were two of the 27 violations contained in the top charge that accused him of running a continuing criminal enterprise for nearly 30 years. Those two violations alleged that he was involved in shipping 19 tons of cocaine on a tanker ship out of Panama that was seized by the United States Coast Guard in March 2007 and that he had also conspired to smuggle more than 400 kilos of marijuana on panga boats captured off the California coast in January 2012.
What will happen to El Chapo?
Mr. Guzmán will likely spend the rest of his life in prison. We won’t know exactly where until he is sentenced on June 25.
During that time, Mr. Guzmán is likely to be held at Metropolitan Correctional Center, a jail that has been called tougher than Guantánamo Bay.
Where will El Chapo most likely go to jail?
We won’t know until sentencing, but it’s probable that Mr. Guzmán will be sent to the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colo., more commonly known as the ADX.
From a New York Times Magazine story from 2015 about the ADX:
The ADX can house up to 500 prisoners in its eight units. Inmates spend their days in 12-by-7-foot cells with thick concrete walls and double sets of sliding metal doors (with solid exteriors, so prisoners can’t see one another). A single window, about three feet high but only four inches wide, offers a notched glimpse of sky and little else. Each cell has a sink-toilet combo and an automated shower, and prisoners sleep on concrete slabs topped with thin mattresses. Most cells also have televisions (with built-in radios), and inmates have access to books and periodicals, as well as certain arts-and-craft materials.
Why did it take so long?
Six days of deliberations is not a long time. But as a result of the extensive amount of evidence, many people thought a conviction would happen sooner. But it was a complicated case. Almost 11 weeks of testimony by 56 witnesses for the prosecution produced an exhaustive amount of evidence for jurors to process.
Also, the charges were complicated. For the first count, engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, jurors had to determine 27 different violations within that count. For example: “Violation One (International Distribution of Cocaine — 3,200 kilograms — January 2005).”
As mentioned earlier, jurors had to work through an eight-page verdict sheet with 53 boxes.
Requests by jurors to see complete transcripts for several witnesses — including major figures like Jorge and Alex Cifuentes-Villa, Vicente Zambada, Jesus Zambada García and Dámaso López Núñez — indicated they were being thorough in filling out that sheet.
What will happen to some of the prosecution’s cooperating witnesses from the case?
Lucero Guadalupe Sánchez López, one of El Chapo’s former mistresses who testified about how she once eluded authorities with the kingpin — naked — through a tunnel dug beneath a bathtub in his safe house, is awaiting sentencing stemming from her arrest while attempting to enter the United States at a border crossing in San Diego.
Prosecutors will eventually file papers with sentencing recommendations for other witnesses, including the cartel prince, Vicente Zambada Niebla; Vicente’s uncle, Jesus Zambada García; and El Chapo’s top aide, Dámaso López Núñez. But so far, their dockets don’t indicate any (visible) schedules.
One major witness, the Colombian trafficker Alex Cifuentes, may end up testifying in a new cartel trial against Mykhaylo Koretskyy, a Ukranian-born alleged drug trafficker who was arrested in 2018 and then was indicted in federal court in New York on drug smuggling conspiracy charges.
The case, based in Manhattan, will touch on the Sinaloa cartel’s Canadian operations. Mr. Cifuentes was instrumental in those.
As a side note, one of El Chapo’s lawyers, Jeffrey Lichtman, is representing Mr. Koretskyy, who is still waiting to be extradited from Curacao.
What will happen to Emma Coronel Aispuro, El Chapo’s wife?
Ms. Coronel became a favorite of the New York tabloids during the trial. But she will most likely go back to Mexico to take care of her 7-year-old twin daughters.
After the final closing arguments on Jan. 31, Ms. Coronel wrote in Spanish on Instagram: “I have many feelings I find difficult to express.” She added: “They won’t sell me another version of Joaquin and although much time has passed that we can’t have contact, my husband knows how much I love him and always counted, counts and will be able to count on me.”
Mr. Lichtman after the verdict said of Mr. Guzmán: “I don’t think he’ll ever see his wife again other than across the courtroom at the sentencing.”
So does this mean the drug war is over?
Well, no. Actually, El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel is still active in Mexico and is one of the leading traffickers of the synthetic opiate fentanyl into the United States.
Also, other cartels, such as the Jalisco New Generation, have risen up to fill any gaps that were left by Mr. Guzmán’s arrest.
In fact, Mexican heroin production increased by 37 percent and seizures of fentanyl in places like Nogales more than doubled in 2016 and 2017, the years when the crime lord was most recently arrested and sent to New York for prosecution.
But drug enforcement officials said they believe El Chapo’s conviction is a major win in the drug war.
“It is our hope that this verdict will show the entire world no matter who you are or where you are located or how powerful you become, the Drug Enforcement Administration will never stop and you will answer for your crimes,” said Uttam Dhillon, acting administrator for the D.E.A. "The D.E.A. will continue to pursue justice worldwide and protect all Americans from this scourge of illegal drugs.”