El Chapo smuggled over 300,000 pounds of cocaine into the US, enough to provide one line to every citizen
The Sinaloa Cartel supremo has pleaded not guilty to a 17-count indictment accusing him of multiple crimes, including drug trafficking, money laundering, and murder
The trial of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán is now underway in Brooklyn, New York, with prosecutors detailing the extent of the 61-year-old's crimes to the court, including how he smuggled enough cocaine across the border to "give more than a line" for each of the country's 320 million-odd residents.
There were a fair few obstacles that had to be circumvented for the trial to even begin, including problems in the jury selection process after several potential candidates had to be dismissed by a US District Judge Brian Cogan when they expressed fear for their lives if selected.
But with the hearing now underway, prosecutors laid out the extent of the Sinaloa Cartel supremo's crimes and how the drug cartel had trafficked an estimated $14 billion in drugs into the US over the past 25 years. They alleged that 340,982 pounds of cocaine had made its way into the United States between 1989 to 2014, with federal authorities seizing enough of the drug to offer a line to every single one of the country's residents.
The court heard that he propagated the movement of these drugs through a sophisticated tunnel that connected two warehouses, one across the Mexico border, and the other in Arizona, just two blocks from the US Customs office in the city of Douglas.
According to the Daily Mail, retired US Customs Agent Carlos Salazar testified about the tunnel, describing how it was half the length of a football field and equipped with electric lights, an industrial-sized weighing scale and a hydraulic system to lift away flooring that was covered by a pool table.
In his arguments, Assistant US Attorney Adam Fels detailed out how El Chapo had "his own private army" of hundreds of men armed with assault rifles, a gold-plated AK-47 rifle, and a diamond-encrusted pistol branded with his initials. The court also heard of how the 61-year-old kept a payroll of corrupt government officials and violent sicarios under his command to protect his multibillion-dollar "global narco-empire".
As the hearing proceeded, jurors were also made privy to some of the operational tactics El Chapo employed to seize the drug market and become "the most powerful drug trafficker in the world", filling the void left by Pablo Escobar after his death. This included how the 61-year-old did not shy away from ordering the deaths of his own family members to rise in ranks and turned certain parts of Mexico into a war zone in a bid to expand his cartel's territory and weaken rivals.
One of the key witnesses in the case was Jesus Zambada, an accountant of El Chapo who was arrested in 2008 and remains in the custody of US authorities. Not only was he an accountant, but he also reportedly ran a cartel warehouse in Mexico City that processed 80 to 100 tons of cocaine a year and had seized control of the airport in the city by bribing officials. Zambada described his former boss as "one of the most powerful drug traffickers in Mexico" and explained how the 61-year-old planned his escape from a federal maximum-security prison in Mexico in 2001.
Zambada also revealed that for most of the 2000s, his brother, Ismael 'El Mayo' Zambada, along with El Chapo, were the top leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel as it imported large shipments of Colombian cocaine by land, sea, and air into Mexico before then smuggling it into the US through numerous means.
He said they would often stash packets of the drug within containers hidden inside gas tanker trucks filled with fuel, explaining how a kilo purchased in Colombia for $3,000 would eventually fetch north of $20,000 in most American metropolitans.
El Chapo has pleaded not guilty to a 17-count indictment accusing him of multiple crimes, including drug trafficking, money laundering, and murder. He is currently being kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and faces a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison if convicted of the charges. The trial continues.