January 08, 2019
FILE – Mexico’s top drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is escorted as he arrives at Long Island MacArthur airport in New York, Jan. 19, 2017, following his extradition from Mexico.
NEW YORK – The voice of Joaquin Guzman, the accused Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo, wafted through a Brooklyn courtroom on Tuesday after an FBI special agent said the agency had intercepted 100 to 200 recorded calls of him after infiltrating his encrypted messaging system.
Testimony from the agent, Steven Marston, came nearly two months into the trial of Guzman, which began last Nov. 13 and may last a few more weeks.
Guzman, 61, was extradited to the United States in January 2017 to face charges of trafficking huge quantities of cocaine, heroin and other drugs into the United States as the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Prosecutors have also said Guzman played a central role in a Mexican drug war in which more than 100,000 people have died.
Guzman faces life in prison if convicted.
Marston said the FBI tapped into more than 800 calls on the encrypted system with the help of a cooperating witness, Christian Rodriguez, with its probe targeting Guzman, Colombian drug trafficking leader Diego Cifuentes and others.
The agent said the system’s servers were moved to the Netherlands, where they “would not be suspicious” to Sinaloa, and that calls were intercepted from April 2011 to January 2012.
FILE – Police guard the courthouse of United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York where Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was brought, in Brooklyn, New York, Nov. 5, 2018.
Marston said Guzman was readily identifiable by his higher-pitched voice, which had “kind of a sing-songy nature to it” and a “nasally undertone.”
A few calls were played to jurors by early afternoon. Jurors had previously heard from former Guzman associates testifying about multi-ton drug shipments, deadly wars between rival drug lords, and corruption by Mexican public officials.
Guzman’s lawyers have portrayed their client as a scapegoat for what they called Sinaloa’s real leader, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who also faces U.S. charges but remains at large.
The defendant mostly sat quietly during testimony, but waved enthusiastically to his wife in the courtroom before it started.
Tuesday’s proceedings began with additional testimony from government witness Edgar Galvan, a low-level drug trafficker who the defense accused of fabricating $3 million in monthly payments from another trafficker to Guzman, with the hope of reducing his own 24-1/3-year prison term.
Galvan denied making up the payments, although he admitted to having previously lied to investigators.
“Would you say you’re a pretty good liar?” defense lawyer William Purpura asked Galvan.
“I used to be,” Galvan said.