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It's barely 615 am and already more than 50 (?) journalists are lined up outside Federal District Court in Brooklyn to hear the government's closing arguments this morning at the Chapo trial.
Packed into the courthouse vestibule like a crowd at a rock concert, they're at least out of the subfreezing New York wind. At one point this week, court officials were considering opening a second overflow courtroom for the crowd but decided not to at the last moment.
Prosecutors are expected to spend much, if not most, of the day taking jurors through the epic case. There are 10 counts in the indictment and the trial testimony spanned nearly 30 years of Chapo's career, from his peasant days in La Tuna to his height of narco lord opulence.
The defense will give their own summations on Thursday and the jury could get the case by Friday morning--if the panelists decide they want to sit that day. The trial has typically been off on Fridays but Judge Cogan has asked the jurors if they would consider deliberating then.
As we came into the courtroom this morning for the prosecution's summations, federal agents were laying out 8 boxes--probably filled w/kilos of coke and heroin--on a plastic tarp. They also placed two AK-47s on the prosecution table in front of the jury.
It's looking like a real old-fashioned stemwinder with narco props is coming.
Speaking for the government today will be Andrea Goldbarg, an assistant US attorney from Brooklyn, who has been working on cartel cases for a decade.
Just before closings were to start there was some 11th hour juror drama.
One of the jurors told the court it was "important" for her to know whether or not Chapo was paying his lawyers.
It's the first time we've had juror issues so far.
Judge Cogan spoke w/the juror (they're anonymous) telling her the question "wasn't illogical" but was "impermissible under the law."
She had another question: whether Chapo had himself decided on the defense's presentation (or lack of one.)
Judge Cogan gave the same answer.
He asked the juror if she could decide the case solely on the evidence presented in the courtroom. She assured him she could.
We reconvene for closings shortly...
Goldbarg has spent the last 90 mins leading jurors thru the 10 counts of the indictment. The most important is one called a Continuing Criminal Enterprise charge. The govt has to prove that Chapo broke at least 3 drug laws in concert w/5 other people and had a supervisory role.
During her intro there was a kind of Chapo slideshow--like at a bar mitzvah--of the greatest image hits of the trial: armed Chapo w/his old friend Commandante Juan; young Chapo at a nightclub w/pals and gals; hatted Chapo in the mountains; and in the center, mugshot Chapo.
Not surprisingly, there's been little new in Goldbarg's presentation but it does bring back parts of the trial. How Chapo once plotted to move 100 tons of coke on a tanker ship owned by Pemex. How much cartel guys love plastic surgery. How sophisticated the US investigation was.
On that note:
Prosecutors played jurors a video of Chapo interrogating a rival, hogtied and bound to a pole, in 2011. In an amazing stroke, the same interrogation was recorded through the cellphone of a cartel operative watching through a simultaneous wiretap of the phone. Crazy.
To get a sense of how sprawling and many-tentacled this case is, consider just one episode it focused on: a joint FBI-Mexican federal police raid on Chapo's ocean-view mansion in Cabo San Lucas on Feb 22, 2012.
The feds tracked Chapo there thru his IT guy who helped them crack his encrypted phone network & the text messages he himself was monitoring thru spyware installed on the phones of his wife & mistresses. One mistress, Agustina Acosta, was chatting about the Cabo trip w/ a friend.
Tho the raid ultimately failed as Chapo ducked out the back & into thorn bushes, the feds knew he was there b/c he later texted his wife about seeing the police coming. He also asked her to replace the size 32/30 jeans he left behind. Jurors saw those jeans in a video of the raid
One of Chapo's close aides, Alex Cifuentes, was also in Cabo at the time and testified that Chapo was calling him in a panic the whole night. Alex said that he himself hunkered down as the cops swarmed Cabo & called his mom in Colombia. We a recording of the call with his mom.
Though the FBI didn't get Chapo in Cabo, they found what Goldbarg called "a treasure trove" of intel including Chapo's personal phone book that listed the 3 digit extensions that all of his closest people used on the encrypted phone system that launched the raid to begin with.
Alex Cifuentes was 777.
Chapo's pilot, Cachimba, was 725.
ZaZaZa (aka Benjamin), a guy who monitored the spyware reports for Chapo, was 733
Chapo's ex-wife, Griselda, was 132.
And on and on and on.
Another intriguing trial episode:
The March 2007 seizure of 16 TONS of coke on the merchant ship Gatun off the coast of Panama. It was the US Coast Guard's largest drug seizure ever.
The ship had been purchased by Mayo Zambada, Chapo's main partner, & both were investors in the load. Speedboats ferried the coke to the merchant vessel which used its crane to bring the drugs aboard. But the Coast Guard stopped the ship. It took a human chain to unload it.
After the seizure the 3rd investor, Arturo Beltran Leyva, was suspicious the DEA had tapped cartel. His suspicions may have played a role in the Beltran Leyvas split from the cartel after Arturo's brother, Alfredo, was arrested next year. Arturo feared Chapo had sol Alfredo out.
Goldbarg said the early 2000s were the heyday of the Sinaloa cartel, a time when the partners were all getting along and massive quantities of coke were being moved. From 2003-2005, the cartel's chief supplier, Chupeta, sent them a staggering 55 tons. nytimes.com/2018/12/03/nyr…
That did not account for the additional 22.5 tons that were seized during that period. Chupeta nicknamed these 10 separate loads the "Juanitas." Prosecutors not only had his testimony about them but also his ledgers showing expenses for the shipments down to the smallest detail.
The heyday started to end in 2004 when success bred jealousy and jealousy bred violence. Chapo went to war with his onetime partners. First, with the Carrillo Fuentes family. Then later with the Beltran Leyvas.
The war w/the Beltran Leyvas was exceptionally violent. After it Chapo had only one more big success as a trafficker. He set up an operation buying coke from FARC guerrillas and moving it thru Ecuador. His pal Jorge Cifuentes ran the op on the ground.
Jorge rented warehouses in Quito & Guayaquil. He paid an Ecuadorean army captain to run security. The drugs were moved south to the warehouse then from there to coast of Ecuador. Speedboats took to Chapo's boat on the high seas.
The first load of 6 tons was a success but then there were two big seizures on the next two loads of 6 and 8 tons. It was a fluke. A red car made an illegal U-turn at a routine checkpoint in Ecuador. The cops stopped the car. A truck was w/the car. Capt. Castro was in the truck.
Those seizures seem to be the end of Chapo's big loads. W/in a few years, the Cabo raid took place. Two years later, the Mexican marines raided him at a house in Culiacan sending him fleeing, naked, with his mistress thru a tunnel hidden under a bathtub. nytimes.com/2019/01/17/nyr…
The Cabo raid, as mentioned, came thru intel from the IT guy, Christian Rodriguez, who was flipped by the FBI. The Culiacan raid in 2014 came thru intel from a remarkable HSI wiretap on the cartel's BlackBerry network.
After Chapo escaped in Culiacan he was arrested by the Marines at a hotel in Mazatlan only to escape from prison the next year. That escape--thru another tunnel dug into the shower of his cell--was was by his own wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro.
Chapo was arrested for the final time in 2016. At this stage, extradition proceedings began. He was flown to New York on Jan 19, 2017, the day before President Trump was inaugurated.
Goldbarg finished her presentation by taking the jurors through all of these escapes. She's been working on this case for a long long time and wrapped w/an emotional appeal. She said Chapo "always had a plan" to escape b/c "he wanted to avoid sitting right there--in front you."
"Don't let him escape responsibility," she said. "Hold him accountable for all his crimes. Find him guilty."
PS. In an astonishing bit of timing, at a press conference literally in the middle of Goldbarg's summations, Andreas Manuel Lopez Obrador, the president of Mexico, announced that his administration would no longer pursue drug kingpins like El Chapo.
What on earth that means and why AMLO chose to say it right now of all times are questions above my pay grade. Thoughts?
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