Mexican Drug Kingpin 'El Chapo' Is Sentenced To Life Plus 30 Years In U.S. Prison

By Bill Chappell, NPR

Joaquin Guzmán, also known as "El Chapo," was sentenced Wednesday to a life term in prison plus 30 years. After the sentencing in a Brooklyn courthouse, U.S. attorneys and other officials greeted the media, including Ariana Fajardo Orshan, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.  Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

Joaquin Guzmán, also known as "El Chapo," was sentenced Wednesday to a life term in prison plus 30 years. After the sentencing in a Brooklyn courthouse, U.S. attorneys and other officials greeted the media, including Ariana Fajardo Orshan, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

A federal judge in Brooklyn, N.Y., has sentenced drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán to a term of life in prison without the possibility of parole plus 30 years for his role in leading Mexico's Sinaloa cartel. A life sentence was mandatory; U.S. prosecutors had asked that three decades be added onto Guzmán's punishment.

The sentence also includes a multibillion-dollar financial penalty for the wealthy drug dealer.

"The U.S. government says that conservatively, he's taken in about $12 billion from the drug trade, and they want it paid back," reporter Alexandra Starr told Morning Edition.

One of the only suspenseful questions that remained was whether Guzmán, who did not speak during his long trial, would speak Wednesday in what's expected to be his last public appearance before he likely is sent to the Supermax prison in Florence, Colo.

Addressing the court in Spanish through an English interpreter, Guzmán complained about the conditions during his detention, calling it "the most inhumane situation" he ever experienced, according to CNN. He said the water and the air in his cell were unhealthy, Starr said.

"In order to sleep, I have to use plugs made out of toilet paper in my ears," Guzmán said, according to Molly Crane-Newman, a reporter for the New York Daily News. He added, "It's been a lack of respect for human dignity."

Guzmán concluded his lengthy remarks, Crane-Newman said, by telling U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan, "The United States is no better than any other corrupt country that you don't respect."

Guzmán, 62, was extradited from his native Mexico to the U.S. in January 2017. The terms of his extradition included a pledge that U.S. authorities would not seek the death penalty.

"Mr. Guzmán thought for more than 25 years that he was untouchable, that there was no problem affecting the Sinaloa cartel that he couldn't bribe, intimidate, torture or kill his way out of," Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said at a news conference after the sentencing.

Guzmán's punishment, Benczkowski said, "brings a measure of justice" to people in both the U.S. and Mexico who have been affected by his crimes.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Ariana Fajardo Orshan said the life sentence was the only option for "somebody who has spent a lifetime poisoning the streets of our communities."

A federal jury convicted Guzmán in February, finding him guilty of a raft of serious charges, from drug crimes to a murder conspiracy. His conviction included 10 counts of crimes such as narcotics trafficking, using a firearm in drug crimes and money laundering.

At Wednesday's sentencing, Guzmán's attorneys reiterated their call for a new trial, asking for a hearing to go over their allegations of juror misconduct.

"This case was simply an inquisition. It was a show trial, and how it ended is exactly perfect for that description," defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said. He said the government's witnesses had included "lunatics and sociopaths and psychopaths" and that "up to five jurors broke the law — violated the law while they were judging Mr. Guzmán for crimes."

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Guzmán's lucrative and extensive criminal network extended well beyond Mexico's borders. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says his Sinaloa cartel put an exceptionally potent methamphetamine into illegal drug markets in "virtually every corner of Colorado, Utah, Montana, and Wyoming." During his trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Guzmán sent methamphetamine to numerous U.S. locations, from Los Angeles to Minneapolis and from Ohio to Tucson, Ariz.

The agency also said the cartel supplied cocaine and fentanyl in the U.S. "through sophisticated and efficient transportation and distribution networks."

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Olivia McDowellComment