El Chapo pleads not guilty in NY after his surprise extradition to the US

El Chapo in US custody after his extradition from Mexico.
El Chapo in US custody after his extradition from Mexico.

Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán pleaded not guilty in a New York federal court on Friday, the day after his surprise extradition from Mexico to the US.

Once one of the world’s most wanted drug lords, Guzmán was the head of the Sinaloa Cartel. Dominating the global cocaine market, they eventually became major players in methamphetamines, heroin, and marijuana trafficking.

World’s biggest drug trafficker

From 2009 to 2011, Forbes ranked him as one of the most powerful people in the world. In 2011, he was named the 10th richest person in Mexico, with an estimated net worth of $1 billion USD.

He was arrested in Guatemala in 1993 and sentenced to 20 years and nine months. He still continued to run his empire from prison and escaped in 2001 after a ruling by the Supreme Court of Mexico made extradition to the US easier

In 2014, he was recaptured at the Mexican beach town of Mazatlán. He was held in a high-security prison, in solitary cells with no contact with other inmates, and confined for 23 hours a day. Despite this, he managed to escape in July 2015, using a 1.5 km long tunnel dug under his shower.

In October if that year, he met with actors Sean Penn and Kate del Castillo. Authorities have said that the actors’ trip to the mountains was “essential” to tipping them off to Guzmán’s whereabout.

Current charges

Guzmán, 59, landed in New York late Thursday. US law enforcement officials told the Associated Press that he had arrived on a flight from Ciudad Juárez in northern Mexico.

He has been charged with 17 federal counts related to running a massive drug operation that laundered billions, employed thousands, and used hitmen to carry out murders, kidnappings, and torture. If found guilty, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison.

He’s also facing charges in five other US jurisdictions, as well as facing 10 pending cases in Mexico.

While authorities have cited security concerns for not revealing his current whereabouts, if convicted, he would most likely do his time at the Administrative Maximum Facility. The Supermax, as it’s commonly known, is designed to incarcerate the highest-risk prisoners. The prison can hold over 400 inmates in specially designed “control units” that function as prisons-within-a-prison.

Each inmate is confined to single-person cells for 23 hours of the day. Famous residents include Rami Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; Dzhokar Tsarnev, the Boston Marathon bomber; and Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber.

“I haven’t seen any evidence that indicates to me that Mr. Guzman’s done anything wrong. Most of you probably haven’t seen any evidence like that either,” federal public defender Michael Schneider told reporters outside the courthouse.

Robert Capers, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, also spoke to reporters, saying that they have more than 40 witnesses ready to testify against Guzmán. He also said expects the eventual trial to last “many” weeks.

An additional hearing was scheduled for Feb. 3.

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