Primer: El Chapo complained repeatedly about his living conditions in prison while awaiting his case. So, a Brooklyn federal judge has ordered the Bureau of Prisons relax accommodations for notorious cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzman–by giving him a glorified mail slot to pass documents with his attorneys.
Guzman can now enjoy a second, $1,000 screen and the slot during visits with his attorney Eduardo Balarezo, judge Brian Cogan ruled. The judge has yet to rule on the rest of a defense motion requesting the infamous inmate be allowed in-person visits with his legal team ahead of next April’s trial.
Cogan’s decision comes after Chief Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann visited the Metropolitan Detention Center to address the kingpin’s repeated assertions he was being held under the worst conditions possible. Mann recommended easing restrictions on Guzman as he languishes in jail. According to an official of the U.S. Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan where El Chapo is being held while awaiting trial, significant changes costing $150,000 would have to be made to an adjacent visiting room so that the kingpin can safely and securely meet with his attorneys to prepare for trial. He has plead innocent to 17 drug related charges.
The special federal lock-up section where El Chapo is being held will have to undergo an 18-month “major demolition” and expensive wall restructuring along with relocating fire suppression systems and changing the floor layout according to an affidavit newly-filed by prosecutors. Government attorneys say the current MCC layout makes it impossible for Chapo to meet face-to-face with his team of defense attorneys because a rat’s nest of exposed electrical wires and piping might provide cover for the cartel boss to wage another escape attempt.
Mexico has extradited the former right-hand man of “El Chapo” to face charges and serve as a key witness in the case against the former Sinaloa cartel boss.
Dámaso López, 52, was extradited Friday by authorities from the Mexican border city of Juárez. In a video posted to Twitter by the office of Mexico’s attorney general, a handcuffed López can be seen being led by armed police from a helicopter to an airplane for transfer to the U.S.
Arrested in 2017, Lopez—who has been dubbed the Graduate, due to his college education—is charged with drug trafficking and money laundering, among other crimes. In 2001, he is believed to have helped Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, 61, the former kingpin of the Sinaloa cartel, escape from prison.
Guzmán was arrested again in 2014, but escaped from prison 18 months later in July 2015. After a massive manhunt, the drug baron was recaptured by Mexican authorities in January 2016. A year later, the cartel leader was extradited to the U.S., where he is currently awaiting trial.
Despite formerly serving under Guzmán, López aimed to take control of the Sinaloa cartel. He launched a bloody feud with El Chapo’s son for control in 2016. López allied with the Jalisco New Generation cartel and triggered a string of violence in the Mexican coastal states of Sinaloa and Baja California, The Guardian reported.
However, López was arrested in 2017, with his wing of the cartel in shambles. His own son, Dámaso López Serrano, had surrendered to U.S. authorities and pleaded guilty to charges of drug smuggling.
Mexico’s acting attorney general, Alberto Elias Beltran, said Friday that López is viewed as a key witness in the case against Guzmán. Beltran also said Mexico would suspend charges against López to avoid violating due process guarantees, according to Business Insider.
“He’s a key person as much as for the United States government as for the Mexican government,” Beltran told a local radio program. “We can bring to a good conclusion the process the United States is carrying out against Guzmán.”
The court case against El Chapo will begin in New York in September, according to Spanish newspaper El País. If he cooperates, López could testify in front of the court that Guzmán was the top leader of the Sinaloa drug organization. It is believed that López will for now be transferred to Virginia, where he will be held under tight security in the lead-up to the trial.
Here are a few people who will be sleeping a little easier tonight.
A Brooklyn federal judge ruled Friday that accused Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman won’t be getting the names of the confidential informants who ratted him out.
The order from Judge Brian Cogan came after Guzman’s lawyers asked that prosecutors overseeing his upcoming drug-trafficking trial provide more than just summaries of the evidence they’ve collected.
Defense lawyer Eduardo Balarezo argued in a previously filed motion that the information they’ve been given is “utterly insufficient.”
“For example, the government’s disclosures merely state that it has ‘information,’ from some period of time long ago and describes the information in general terms. The government does not disclose the name(s) of the individual(s) that provided the information to the government,” the lawyer’s motion reads.
But Cogan on Friday sided with the government. Guzmán is expected to head to trial in September. He faces up to life behind bars on a rash of drug-trafficking charges.