NEW YORK – A federal judge in New York has set an April 16, 2018, trial date for Mexican defendant Joaquin “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzman, who is accused of having overseen the multi-billion-dollar operations of a powerful transnational drug cartel.
U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan set the tentative trial date at a hearing Friday in Brooklyn.
The 60-year-old Guzman has been held at the maximum-security Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan since being extradited from Mexico on Jan. 19, just hours before then-President Barack Obama’s second term in office expired.
He faces a 17-count indictment, including a charge that he headed up a continuing criminal enterprise – the Sinaloa drug cartel – from 1989 to 2014.
If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.
Mexico, which abolished capital punishment in 2005, was given assurances during the extradition process that Guzman would not receive the death penalty.
In Friday’s hearing, the defendant said he was satisfied with his court-appointed attorneys and wanted them to continue representing him.
His lawyers called for a review of confinement conditions that they described as overly strict, arguing that they need physical contact with their client to efficiently review the mountain of case documents.
Thus far, they have been forced to communicate with him through glass.
Cogan on Friday instructed a magistrate judge to visit the Metropolitan Correctional Center to see if there is a secure place where they can meet with Guzman. But on Thursday he ruled that the defendant must remain in solitary confinement.
Stringent security conditions are in place for Guzman partly due to his history of prison breaks.
He humiliated the Mexican government by escaping from the Altiplano maximum-security facility in central Mexico on July 11, 2015, through a mile-long tunnel dug to his cell, but he was recaptured six months later in his home state of Sinaloa.
He had earlier broken out of a prison in the western state of Jalisco in 2001 and spent more than 13 years on the run before being recaptured on Feb. 22, 2014, in the Pacific resort city of Mazatlan.
Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel rose to become one of the main sources of illicit drugs entering the United States.
The Mexican kingpin’s wealth led to his name regularly appearing on Forbes magazine’s list of global billionaires.