The El Chapo jury is re-examining testimony from three key narcos. Here’s what they told the court
|National Post 11 Feb 2019 at 15:23|
Jurors are still trying to decide the fate of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, 61, having now gone through five days of deliberations in Brooklyn.
As they examine ten separate counts against the man charged with trafficking on a monumental scale, multiple conspiracies to murder, and obtaining $14 billion in ill-gained assets, there’s no shortage of material to sift through.
In particular, the jury is looking at the transcribed testimony of Guzman’s former associates. Among these are three Colombians whose confessions were central to the trial: Juan Carlos Ramírez Abadía, alias “Chupeta” or Lollipop, as well as the Cifuentes-Villa brothers, Jorge Milton and Hildebrando Alexander, or “Alex.”
Here’s a look at what they told the court.
Chupeta was a leader of Colombia’s notorious Norte del Valle Cartel, which grew from the ashes of the Cali Cartel, which was dismembered by U.S. and Colombian authorities in the mid-1990s. Having disfigured his own face with surgery to conceal his identity, he cut a ghoulish figure on the stand in Brooklyn, and his testimony was fittingly horrific.
“It’s impossible to be the leader of a cartel in Colombia without violence,” the narco who was captured in 2007 after a period on the run in Brazil said on the stand, according to Rolling Stone .
Chupeta admitted ordering over 150 murders, including some in the U.S. He once shot a man in the face, he said, and arranged for another man to be shot in the head from behind after lulling him into a false sense of security.
“If your drugs are stolen and you don’t do an act of violence against the people who stole from you, they’re going to keep stealing from you and then they’re going to kill you,” he said.
Chupeta was a huge early presence in El Chapo’s orbit, he said, outlining how he moved cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, from where Guzman pushed it further north. First, his group sent it by plane — sometimes a dozen planes a night — and then via fishing trawlers once their air routes were grasped by authorities.
If your drugs are stolen and you don’t do an act of violence against the people who stole from you, they’re going to keep stealing from you and then they’re going to kill you
He even talked of a sea captain who, because of a cocaine psychosis episode, died in the Pacific along with one of Chupeta’s cargos to Guzman.
“, American Coast Guard everywhere, and he sank the ship with my 20,000 kilos of cocaine. I saw all that sea and I became very sad. I said, they’re never going to find it,” he said, according to the New York Post.
A series of Chupeta’s ledgers were presented in court as evidence; northbound drug boats with codenames like Juanita 8, 9 and 10 were marked, for example. He lost two huge shipments , he said, after interceptions by U.S. authorities in 2004.
“That’s a tragedy for me as a drug trafficker. In my entire history as a drug trafficker, I’d never had two ships seized by the United States,” he told the court .
Once Chupeta’s group moved cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, El Chapo then used his contacts to get it across the U.S. border, for a 40 per cent cut, the grossly disfigured narco told the court. On the stand, Chupeta outlined a dazzling array of alleged bribes and scams which helped his cartel avoid capture. These included payments to those at the very top of Colombian government and policing, he said.
Besides his drugs testimony, he also calmly detailed the killings he was involved in. In one case, Chupeta said he ordered one of his own cartel members killed, as well as 12 of the man’s protection unit, because the man was an apparent snitch.
Jorge Milton Cifuentes-Villa
“Everything I’ve breathed and eaten in my life has been drug trafficking,” , outlining his role at the heart of Colombia’s Cifuentes-Villa criminal clan, one of El Chapo’s main partner groups.
Jorge Milton said he had started in the trade in 1988, as an underling with the Norte del Valle Cartel, the same group as Chupeta. He said he was involved in the logistical side of things — making sure drug smugglers stayed sober, for one.
His own brother Francisco, murdered in 2007, had once been a pilot for Colombia’s kingpin Pablo Escobar.
Jorge Milton wasn’t fussy where his drugs came from; he sourced cocaine from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the now disbanded leftwing rebels known as FARC. But he was also cozy with the rightwing narco-terrorists of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, or AUC, for whom he admitted trafficking weapons.
Eventually things went sour with the AUC, he said. Having lived for a period in Texas in the mid-1990s, and then doing another stint in Colombia, he fled to Mexico in 2002 and went to Guzman. He did so, he said, both to get protection from the AUC and to traffic drugs with El Chapo.
He said Guzman wasn’t easy to deal with, though.
El Chapo was being given advice that authorities knew about certain seafaring cocaine loads, he said, but insisted on pressing ahead anyway. This pig-headedness resulted in two huge consignments being caught by the U.S. navy and Ecuadorian authorities.
And you felt bad about that because you promised Flaco’s father on his deathbed that you would take care of Flaco?
As well as the sourcing and shipping of drugs for El Chapo, Jorge Milton admitted in court, under cross examination, to ordering three murders.
“I feel responsible, that’s why I confessed it to the government. But I didn’t give the order to have him killed,” he said of the murder of a cartel associate called “El Flaco,” according to the New York Daily News .
“And you felt bad about that because you promised Flaco’s father on his deathbed that you would take care of Flaco?” El Chapo’s lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman, trying to undermine the credibility of the witness, asked.
“Yes, sir,” Cifuentes said.
“Don Flaco’s murder still weighs heavily on you?” Lichtman replied.
“And every murder that I have committed — yes, sir,” Cifuentes-Villa concluded.
A map of the Cifuentes-Villa crime organization, with Alex below and to the right of their partner “El Chapo” Guzman.
The second of the Cifuentes-Villa crime clan of Medellin to take the stand, Alex was the man who gave us the first insights into El Chapo’s Canadian operations.
Having turned on El Chapo for a reduced sentence, Jorge Milton’s brother said he “had a friend who was Colombian-Canadian and he had clients there,” and so first started running the Canadian angle for El Chapo from 2008.
He had gone to live with El Chapo in the mountains in Sinaloa in 2007, he said, as a “guarantee” for drug money that El Chapo was sending to Colombia. The Mexican drug lord at that point sourced his cocaine from the Cifuentes-Villa clan and the Norte del Valle Cartel, and Alex was being used as his collateral.
Alex would coordinate deliveries to Canadian and U.S. wholesalers, he said, and once the cash was obtained, he would then make sure it was sent back to Colombia and Ecuador.
He said the group used various methods to get cocaine north: 6,000-kilogram loads from Ecuador to Canada via the Pacific; overland routes from Mexico into the U.S.; cocaine sent from Phoenix and L.A. north by truck to Vancouver; and even loads sent by helicopter over the U.S.-Canada border.
Alex also outlined a chilling plot to kill Stephen Tello — a Canadian former real estate agent that El Chapo suspected was .
A screenshot of Alex’s court testimony.
Transcripts obtained by the National Post show Alex detailing another Canadian relationship — an agreement for cocaine, heroin and crystal meth deals with a man he called “Tony Suzuki.” This is believed to be Antonio Pietrantonio of the Montreal mafia.
Alex also appeared to back up Jorge Milton’s instincts that Guzman did not have the tact needed to run a highly clandestine operation.
“What happened to the next shipment of cocaine from Ecuador?” he was asked by a prosecutor at one point.