Drug kingpin El Chapo sentenced to life in prison, must forfeit $12.6 billion

The Mexican drug lord known as “El Chapo” was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison plus thirty years at a hearing where he accused the U.S. government of corruption and of torturing him during his confinement.

El Chapo, whose real name is Joaquin Guzman Loera, also was ordered to forfeit $12.6 billion during his sentencing in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York.

Judge Brian Cogan, who cited what he called Guzman’s “overwhelming evil” in announcing the mandated sentence, will determine later how much he must pay in restitution.

The kingpin, who had twice escaped maximum security prisons in Mexico, was convicted earlier this year of presiding over a vast criminal operation, the Sinaloa Cartel, which funneled immense quantities of narcotics, including heroin and methamphetamine, into the United States.

Guzman did not testify during the three-month trial, but broke his silence Wednesday.

He claimed, in a tear-choked statement, that he had been denied justice during his trial and confinement in New York City.

“Since the government will send me to a jail where my name will not ever be heard again, I take this opportunity to say: There was no justice here,” El Chapo told Cogan, according to the New York Daily News.

“I drink unsanitary water, no air or sunlight, and the air pumped in makes my ears and throat hurt. In order to sleep, I put toilet paper in my ears. My wife had not been allowed to visit, and I can’t hug my daughters,” he said, according to NBC News. “This has been psychological, emotional and mental torture 24 hours a day.”

“My case was stained and you denied me a fair trial when the world was watching. What happened here is the U.S. is not better than any other corrupt country,” Guzman added.

Guzman spoke in Spanish. His comments were translated by one of his lawyers.

The defense indicated to Cogan that they plan to appeal on the grounds of  juror misconduct, according to Vice News, which was at the hearing.

A juror told that news outlet in February that jurors violated the judge’s orders barring them from following the case in the media.

“What occurred here was not justice. How we treat our most reviled is a measuring stick for our own society,” defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said, according to NBC News. 

But prosecutors said that Guzman was “uniquely deserving” of the harsh sentence.

“There were countless victims of his orders to kill,” prosecutor Gina Parlovecchio said. “He has shown no remorse.”

One of Guzman’s alleged victims, Andrea Velez Fernandez, spoke at the sentencig.

“Today I come here a miracle of god,” Velez Fernandez said. “Mr. Guzman used me as bait to kidnap someone in Ecuador. He offered one million dollars to Hells Angels to end my life. Fortunately I found out and escaped with the help of the FBI.

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Guzman’s earned billions of dollars while serving as the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, which government researchers have called the “most powerful drug trafficking syndicate in the Western Hemisphere.”

And he became a legend for his evasion of authorities.

One of Guzman’s notorious prison escapes, in 2015, was made through a mile-long tunnel.

His first escape, in 2001, came when he hid in a prison laundry cart.

That slippery reputation, coupled with the violent nature of his crimes, means Guzman is likely to serve his time in the “supermax” U.S. prison known as ADX Florence, located in Colorado. It is the highest-security federal prison in the country.

“You can bury Joaquín Guzman under tons of steel in Colorado but you’re never going to erase the stink of” his trial, Lichtman told reporters after the sentencing.

Prosecutors had argued that the $12.6 billion figure was a “conservative” estimate of the amount of drug money Guzman generated as chief of the Sinaloa Cartel.

The Sinaloa Cartel remains a dominant drug trafficking organization in Mexico and maintains distribution hubs in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.