BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera, the boss of the Sinaloa Cartel, also known by various aliases, including “El Chapo” and “El Rapido,” was convicted Tuesday by a federal jury in Brooklyn of being a principal leader of a continuing criminal enterprise, a count that includes 26 drug-related violations and one murder conspiracy, through his leadership of the Mexican organized crime syndicate known as the Sinaloa Cartel. Guzman Loera was convicted of all 10 counts of a superseding indictment, including charges of narcotics trafficking, using a firearm in furtherance of his drug crimes and participating in a money laundering conspiracy. The verdict followed a 12-week trial in United States District Court. When he is sentenced, Guzman faces a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.
This conviction follows an investigation, which led to his extradition to the U.S. to face charges, by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in New York and Arizona, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), with assistance from the U.S. Marshal Service (USMS), the FBI, and the New York City Police Department (NYPD). The HSI New York case was handled by its El Dorado Task Force.
The Evidence at Trial
As proven at trial, Guzman Loera was a principal leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, a Mexico-based international drug trafficking organization responsible for importing and distributing vast quantities of cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin into the United States. The evidence at trial, including testimony from 14 cooperating witnesses; narcotics seizures totaling over 130,000 kilograms of cocaine and heroin; weapons, including AK-47s and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher; ledgers; text messages; videos; photographs and intercepted recordings, detailed the drug trafficking activity of Guzman Loera and his co-conspirators over a 25-year period from January 1989 until December 2014. Guzman Loera was repeatedly referred to by witnesses as one of the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Guzman Loera oversaw the smuggling of narcotics to wholesale distributors in Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and elsewhere. The billions of illicit dollars generated from drug sales in the United States were then clandestinely transported back to Mexico. Guzman Loera also used “sicarios,” or hit men, who carried out hundreds of acts of violence in Mexico to enforce Sinaloa’s control of territories and to eliminate those who posed a threat to the Sinaloa Cartel.
In the course of the decades-long drug trafficking conspiracy, the Sinaloa Cartel transported tens of thousands of kilograms of narcotics from Central and South America for distribution in the United States. Guzman Loera used various methods to transport the cartel’s narcotics into the United States, including submarines, carbon fiber airplanes, trains with secret compartments and transnational underground tunnels. Multiple witnesses testified about seizures by law enforcement officers of massive amounts of cocaine, heroin and marijuana linked to the Sinaloa Cartel. One of the largest seizures of drugs bound for the United States involved over seven tons of cocaine concealed in jalapeño cans.
The jury also heard recordings of Guzman Loera’s own damning words discussing his drug trafficking, corruption and violence. The calls included Guzman Loera discussing sending “ice,” meaning methamphetamine, to Los Angeles, California; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Ohio and Tucson, Arizona.
Guzman Loera also utilized a sophisticated encrypted communications network to operate the global narcotics trafficking operation. As an information technology engineer testified at trial, Guzman Loera paid him one million dollars to purchase and set up a network to enable the defendant to communicate via the internet with his drug trafficking associates in Colombia, Ecuador, Canada and the United States without fear of being intercepted by law enforcement or his rivals. The witness devised a secret and secure system, consisting of encrypted cell phones and encrypted apps.
The success of the Sinaloa Cartel relied upon the use of violence to maintain their power throughout the region and beyond. Numerous co-conspirators testified that Guzman Loera directed his hitmen to kidnap, interrogate, torture and shoot members of rival drug organizations, at times carrying out acts of violence himself. A former hitman testified that Guzman Loera beat two men with a tree branch until their bodies “were completely like rag dolls,” before shooting the men and ordering their bodies be tossed into a bonfire. The former hitman also testified that Guzman Loera interrogated a rival drug cartel member, shot him and ordered that he be buried alive. In an intercepted call, the jury heard Guzman Loera order one of his sicarios to kidnap rival cartel members, but not to kill them without first checking with him.
The Sinaloa Cartel had unfettered access to weapons. A law enforcement witness showed the jury over 40 AK-47s that were seized in El Paso, Texas before they could be delivered to Guzman Loera in Mexico. Additionally, witnesses identified photographs of various weapons, including grenades and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher utilized by the Sinaloa Cartel. Guzman Loera’s personal arsenal included a gold plated AK-47 and three diamond-encrusted .38 caliber handguns, one emblazoned with his initials, “JGL.”
The evidence presented at trial demonstrated that to further the interests of the Sinaloa Cartel, Guzman Loera and his organization took advantage of a vast network of corrupt government officials. These officials ranged from local law enforcement officers, prison guards, state officials, high ranking members of the armed forces, as well as politicians. These corrupt officials assisted Guzman Loera and his organization in exchange for millions of dollars’ worth of bribery payments. For example, according to the testimony of several witnesses, in many instances, Guzman Loera and his workers were warned of pending law enforcement operations which allowed Guzman Loera to avoid capture on multiple occasions. In other instances, Guzman Loera, through his employees, paid officials to turn a blind eye to trafficking activities in an effort to facilitate the shipment of drugs, weapons, and bulk cash.
Guzman Loera’s lucrative drug trafficking business generated billions of dollars in illicit proceeds. Guzman Loera used various methods to launder money including bulk cash smuggling from the United States to Mexico. One of the largest seizures was of $1.26 million seized from hidden compartments in a truck driven by Guzman Loera’s brother in Douglas, Arizona in 1989. In addition to the bulk cash smuggling, Guzman Loera oversaw numerous shell companies, including a juice company and a fish flour company to launder the cartel’s narcotics trafficking proceeds.
“The guilty verdict against Joaquin Guzman Loera, one of the most violent and feared drug kingpins of our time, is a testament to the hard work and courage of America’s frontline law enforcement personnel, including ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations,” said DHS Secretary Nielsen. “They gathered substantial evidence over multiple investigations, which made his extradition to the United States and a successful prosecution possible. Today’s verdict sends an unmistakable message to transnational criminals: you cannot hide, you are not beyond our reach, and we will find you and bring you to face justice. Like Guzman, you will suffer the consequences of your criminal behavior. I applaud the brave men and women at DHS who helped make this conviction possible and thank our interagency and international partners for their exceptional work.”
“I am pleased that the Department has brought Joaquin Guzman Loera (El Chapo) to justice by securing a conviction against this drug kingpin, who was a principal leader of the Sinaloa Cartel,” said Acting Attorney General Whitaker. “As was clear to the jury, Guzman Loera’s massive, multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise was responsible for flooding the streets of the United States with hundreds of tons of cocaine, as well as enormous quantities of other dangerous drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine. The trial evidence also overwhelmingly showed that Guzman’s unceasing efforts to expand his cartel’s control and consolidate its power left a wake of corruption and violence in communities in both Mexico and the United States. This case demonstrated the extraordinary reach of the U.S. government, our tenacity and commitment to pursuing kingpins like Guzman whom — if their power is unchecked — will, like Guzman, develop what for 25 years was an almost unstoppable capacity to move massive quantities of drugs into our country. Guzman had the capital to absorb huge losses and run his enterprise with impunity; the enormous power to corrupt; and the capability to employ violence on a massive scale. This case, and more importantly, this conviction serves as an irrefutable message to the kingpins that remain in Mexico, and those that aspire to be the next Chapo Guzman, that eventually you will be apprehended and prosecuted. Finally, this verdict demonstrates that the United States, working in close partnership with the Mexican government, will continue to bring all possible resources to bear in its fight against international drug traffickers and their violent organizations.”
“Today’s conviction of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman demonstrates the dedication and determination of the men and women of DEA to bring the world’s most dangerous and prolific drug trafficker to justice,” said DEA Acting Administrator Dhillon. “Those who bring drugs and violence into the United States that destroy lives and communities will not be tolerated, nor evade our reach. The success of this case is a testament to the strength of our relationship with our Mexican counterparts. DEA will continue to pursue justice worldwide and protect Americans.”
When sentenced, Guzman Loera faces a mandatory life sentence for leading a continuing criminal enterprise and a sentence of up to life imprisonment on the seven remaining counts. After the verdict, the government will seek a forfeiture money judgment for billions of dollars constituting the cartel’s illegal drug-trafficking proceeds.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by the Eastern District of New York; the Southern District of Florida; and the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section.
The trial was conducted in the Eastern District of New York jointly with the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Brooklyn and Miami and the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section of the Criminal Division.
The case was investigated in cooperation with Mexican and Colombian law enforcement authorities. The investigative efforts in this case were coordinated with the Department of Justice’s Special Operations Division, comprising agents, analysts, and attorneys from HSI, DEA, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, and the New York State Police.
This case is also the result of the ongoing efforts by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) a partnership that brings together the combined expertise and unique abilities of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, dismantle and prosecute high level members of drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering organizations and enterprises.
The El Dorado Task Force is headquartered at the HSI New York Special Agent in Charge Office and at other locations in the New York/New Jersey Metropolitan area. Task force agents educate the private financial sector to identify and eliminate vulnerabilities and promote anti-money laundering legislation through training and other outreach programs. Prosecutors use a full range of criminal and civil laws to prosecute targets and forfeit the proceeds of their illicit activity. Since its inception, the Task Force has branched out to address all financial crimes – evolving into the largest, most successful financial crimes task force in the world.