Prison escape artist El Chapo is in solitary confinement in Manhattan and is barred from even so much as giving his wife a hug in court.
With all the news that’s coming out of the country’s capital as of late, it might be easy to forget that one of the biggest drug traffickers the world has ever seen is currently standing trial in New York City.
Joaquín Guzmán — more commonly known by his nickname “El Chapo” — is finally standing trial in the United States for his alleged involvement in the Sinaloa drug cartel of Mexico.
“I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana than anybody else in the world. I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats,” El Chapo reportedly said during a now-infamous 2015 Rolling Stone interview with actor Sean Penn.
Although the cartel trafficked a wide variety of drugs, their most significant export was cocaine. El Chapo has been accused of trafficking over 440,000 pounds of the drug during his tenure as the head of the cartel.
The El Chapo trial officially kicked off in a Brooklyn federal courthouse on Nov. 13, 2018. El Chapo is the highest-profile drug lord to ever be tried in U.S. history, and this case is incredibly unique in terms of the security measures that have to be taken in order to ensure that El Chapo stays put.
El Chapo has not only made a name for himself for enabling the Sinaloa Cartel to be the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world’s history. He’s also well known for his masterful prison escapes.
The drug lord’s history of breaking free from the confines of a jail cell has prompted authorities to monitor him like no other criminal ever has been monitored before.
A Master Escape Artist
El Chapo has been arrested three times in Mexico, the last of which resulted in his extradition to the United States in January 2017.
El Chapo’s first arrest occurred in Guatemala back in 1993. But even after he was arrested, he continued to lead the Sinaloa Cartel and control its operation from behind prison walls.
“He continued to manage his affairs from prison with scarcely a hitch,” writes Robert Saviano in his book ZeroZeroZero. “The maximum security prison Puente Grande, where he was transferred in 1995, became his new base of operations.”
El Chapo’s influence was tremendous. He managed to continue overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Sinaloa Cartel even though he was being held at one of the largest maximum security prisons in Mexico.
El Chapo has maintained his power and influence through the use of brute force against his enemies and competitors, and larger-than-life bribes that he paid out to have Mexican officials turn the other cheek. He apparently paid government officials a total of $50 million to ignore the cartel’s activities, which worked for El Chapo for a while.
Bribery is actually the method that El Chapo employed in order to orchestrate his first escape from Prison. In 2001, he bribed a couple of guards at the prison where he was being held to help him escape via a laundry cart.
El Chapo was arrested once again in February 2014 after he had been hiding in tunnels for a number of days. But a little over a year later, the kingpin managed to make his most famous escape through a network of tunnels that he had apparently been digging for months.
El Chapo’s final arrest was made on Jan. 8, 2016. He was recaptured in Los Mochis, Sinaloa after a shootout with Mexican marines. That arrest led to the extradition of the drug lord to the U.S. in January 2017, after which prosecutors began preparing for one of the most significant criminal trials in history.
Unprecedented Security Measures
Knowing El Chapo’s history of bribery and the massive influence he had over people in power and his connections in the world, authorities needed to ensure that he was kept under close watch.
Since his extradition in early 2017, El Chapo has been held in solitary confinement at a high-security prison in Manhattan.
Officials have to shut down the entire Brooklyn Bridge whenever El Chapo has to be transported to the federal courthouse in Brooklyn where the actual trial is taking place. The motorcade that surrounds El Chapo during his transports to court included an ambulance and a SWAT vehicle.
The courthouse was also surrounded by bomb-sniffing dogs and an excess of armed guards. People that wanted to witness the El Chapo trial in person had to go through both a metal detector and an X-ray machine.
El Chapo has even been forbidden from making any sort of contact with his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro. After he put in a request to hug his wife during his trial he was flat out denied.
Brooklyn federal court judge Brian Cogan said that he has no choice but to deny the request, despite being sympathetic to El Chapo, in an effort to prevent the drug lord “from coordinating any escape from prison or directing any attack on individuals who might be cooperating with the Government.”
Witnesses that appear on the stand at the El Chapo trial are getting intense security treatment as well. Courtroom sketch artists have reportedly been instructed to not include any distinctive facial features or hairstyles when sketching the witnesses.
Any sketch also must go through a screening from government prosecutors for approval before they’re distributed to the public, for fear that someone affiliated to El Chapo will seek revenge against those betraying the kingpin.
The process for finding the right jury to hear the arguments in this trial wasn’t a walk in the park either.
The El Chapo Trial Struggles To Procure Jurors
Jury duty is bad enough as it is, but when prosecutors started to search for the right jurors to serve in El Chapo’s trial it was clear that finding the cast would be no easy feat.
Potential jurors were excused from serving in the El Chapo trial in just the first two days of jury selection because they said they feared what consequences any verdict would bring on them once the case is closed.
One individual who was dismissed said that she became anxious after reading a report that stated El Chapo had agreed to not kill any of the would-be jurors.
“What scares me is that his family could come after jurors and their family,” said another woman in court before she was dismissed by the judge.
Even though prosecutors have said that the jury will remain anonymous during the trial, potential jurors still fear that somehow El Chapo will able to figure out their identities.
Clearly, nobody is putting anything past El Chapo and his capabilities.
Ultimately, seven women and five men, along with six alternate jurors, were selected to serve in court for El Chapo’s trial, which is expected to last for up to four months.
El Chapo’s defense team has said that they are pleased with the citizens that were selected. “We trust they will do their duty,” said Eduardo Balarezo, one of his attorneys.
El Chapo has pled not guilty to a 17-count indictment which accuses him of running an international drug trafficking conspiracy, including charges of illegal and deadly gunplay and money laundering.
There’s no telling if El Chapo has a master plan up his sleeve that might lead to an escape from the prison cell in which he currently resides in Manhattan, but authorities are doing everything to make sure that the kingpin finally pays the price for his alleged crimes.
After this look at the El Chapo trial, check out these facts about El Chapo that you might not know about. Then, take a look at this crazy Narcos Instagram account that displays just how lavish the lives of drug lords are.