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The Chapo press corps slowly descends into frozen-toed, narco delirium...
One reporter says, "We're like a bunch of dead-eyed ghosts."
Today will be the trial's final days of argument. Jeff Lichtman, one of Chapo's lawyers, will present the defense summations. He's already been restricted by Judge Cogan on what he say to the jury. We'll see soon what eventually comes out.
As expected, Lichtman has returned to the theme of his opening argument. Namely, that Mayo Zambada is the real leader of the Sinaloa cartel and has never once been arrested while Chapo was "the rabbit that Mexican authorities have been chasing to Mayo's benefit for years."
Lichtman added a few variations this time. Mayo's brother, Rey, and two of his sons, Serafin & Vicente, cooperated w/US authorities (Rey & Vicentillo testified at the trial) and Lichtman suggested this was a family strategy--that the Zambada's use cooperation as "a tool."
Serafin got a 5.5 year sentence. Lichtman suggested if Rey & Vicente got equally light sentences and were ultimately freed, it was a price worth paying.
He asked the jury if they'd spend 5 years in prison in order to return to a billion-dollar fortune. "It's not crazy," he said.
Lichtman also mentioned a bombshell trial moment: the $100 million bribe Chapo allegedly paid to former Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto. He said Mayo paid it. His evidence?
Chapo didn't seem to get anything from it and was hunted during Pena Nieto's term. Also he was broke.
What to make of this? Lichtman's claims are supported by some facts. Mayo hasn't been caught while nearly everyone around has been--or is dead. It's true his family cooperated but the US still hasn't found him. It also seems true Chapo was in debt when he allegedly bribed EPN.
Tantalizing as all this is, it has little bearing on Chapo's guilt or innocence. Mayo could indeed be a shrewd operator, cutting deals with US authorities by snitching on his rivals when it's convenient to do so. And yet, Chapo could still be a major narco lord.
That's why Lichtman added two more strands to his closings.
1) Attack the witnesses who testified vs Chapo as total liars
2) Suggest there isn't one Sinaloa cartel that Chapo conspired to run, but rather a group of (perhaps) federated narcos all working separately
Lichtman savaging cooperators is top-notch entertainment. He reserved the best of ire for Alex and Jorge Cifuentes, the Colombian brothers who worked with and for Chapo for years.
Would you buy a used car from a Cifuentes? he asked the jury.
Would you let a Cifuentes babysit your children?
If so, he said, the car would break down the second it was off the lot and your baby "would be sold for a kilo of cocaine."
He re-read testimony where Alex admitted he'd lied to co-workers, friends, family, law enforcement agents, immigration officials, girlfriends and his own wife.
Q: You lied about Mr. Guzman, didn't you?
A: No, sir.
Q: He's the only person you didn't lie about?
A: That's right, sir
The no-single conspiracy argument seems stronger. There's ample evidence the cartel wasn't a top-down cohesive entity but rather a loose band of constantly warring criminal partners. The jurors have to find that Chapo committed at least 3 crimes w/at least 5 other people.
That's not a stretch with the evidence presented at the trial. But Lichtman is of course trying to sow doubt that the Sinaloa cartel was a cohesive criminal unit--and that Mayo ran it, not Chapo.
Lichtman, also using (some) facts, argued that Chapo had been wrongfully accused as early as 1993 when he was blamed for murdering the beloved Cardinal Ocampo at the Guadalajara airport--a killing several govt witnesses said was in fact committed by the Arellano Felix brothers.
Chapo later escaped prison (the 1st time), he said, not because he feared extradition, as govt witnesses claimed, but rather because he feared for his life. By Lichtman's account, Chapo--unlike Mayo--was then "hunted like an animal" for years (the rabbit metaphor came up again.)
Lichtman mentioned a story by Vicente Zambada who said DEA was able to reach his father while he was in prison. Agents plucked Vicente from his cell in Chicago & put him on the phone w/Mayo. If the feds could find Mayo that way, why not arrest him, he said
"The Mexicans don't want Mayo arrested," Lichtman said, "respectfully, because he's paying them huge bribes."
After Lichtman tossed around a bunch of swear words, Judge Cogan cautioned him on his language. (He confessed to having "a potty mouth.") That didn't stop him from mentioning repeatedly that Pedro Flores, Chapo's top US distributor, had sex--twice--w/his wife in govt custody.
At one point Lichtman stood behind Chapo comparing Flores' (unsanctioned) conjugal visits to Chapo who, er, loved his family too.
"Mr. Guzman can't hug his daughters," Lichtman said. "He's a human being too. He's has feelings too."
Lichtman, who has a loose riffing style, also veered into tangents touching on Batman, Abbott & Costello, Wile E. Coyote and the 1978 World Series, but he never lost right of the Mayo Zambada theme.
He suggested that Mayo might have orchestrated Chapo's infamous 2015 jailbreak through a tunnel dug into the shower of his cell. Why? Because it cemented Chapo's reputation, made him more of a target and thus took "the heat" off Mayo.
Was it really Chapo's voice on the scores of phone calls the government intercepted? Who knew? Lichtman said. It could have been...Mayo Zambada.
Was it truly Chapo in the 2011 video of a mustached man in a black ballcap interrogating suspects? Up went a photo of Mayo in a mustache and black ballcap. That was quickly followed by a cartoon rendering of...just a black ballcap and a mustache.
Lichtman was obsessed w/the ears of Chapo's coke supplier Chupeta Ramirez. That's understandable since Chupeta had plastic surgery on the ears, his nose, chin, cheekbones, eyes, got hairplugs etc. But Lichtman was almost offended that he changed his ears. Kept saying, "The ears."
As a final pitch he implored the jury to look past "the myth of El Chapo" and into their own hearts where he hoped they would find...doubt. He urged them to hold onto that doubt.
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