NEW YORK – “The US is not better than any other corrupt country,” Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman said on Wednesday right before a federal judge sentenced him to life in prison plus 30 years.
Guzman, 62, who did not testify during the 11-week trial at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, asked to address the court before US District Judge Brian Cogan pronounced sentence.
“When extradited, I expected to have a fair trial where justice was blind and my fame would not be a factor, but what happened was actually the opposite,” he said through an interpreter, reading from a prepared statement.
“The government of the United States will send me to a prison where my name will never be heard again. I will take this opportunity to say there was no justice here,” the former Sinaloa cartel boss said.
The jurors’ identities have been kept secret, but in comments to Vice News after the Feb. 12 guilty verdict, one of them alleged misconduct by members of the jury.
While the statements spurred Guzman’s lawyers to ask Cogan to declare a mistrial, or at least investigate the allegations, the judge turned them down.
“You didn’t want to bring the jury back,” the Mexican said on Wednesday, addressing Cogan. “You allege that the action of the jury was not important because there was a lot of evidence against me.”
“Why did we go to trial? Why not sentence me the first day? The jury was not necessary then,” Guzman added.
El Chapo (“Shorty”) also complained of the treatment he received during 30 months behind bars awaiting trial.
“It’s been torture, the most inhumane situation I have lived in my entire life,” Guzman said, adding that authorities barred visits from his wife and daughters.
The kingpin’s statement was the only real surprise of the hearing, as his conviction on the charge of running a criminal enterprise carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Facing reporters afterward outside the court, Guzman’s defense team – who plan to appeal the guilty verdict – criticized the entire judicial process.
“History will treat this verdict with skepticism. What occurred here did not uphold an appearance of justice,” lead attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said.
The lawyer was equally caustic about the prosecution’s demand that Guzman forfeit $12.6 billion of his ill-gotten gains.
“When they get to dollar 1, wake me up. Right now, there are zero (dollars). So, I don’t know that we’re really ever going to see anything with that. It’s a fiction,” Lichtman said. “It’s a fiction. It’s part of the show trial that we’re here for.”
Guzman is expected to serve his sentence at the federal “supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado, where many high-profile convicts are held.
“You can bury Joaquin Guzman under tons of steel in Colorado, and make him disappear, but you’re never going to remove the stink from this verdict due to the failure to order a hearing on the misconduct of the jury in this case,” Lichtman said.
Meanwhile, prosecutors celebrated their triumph.
“Today brings a measure of justice for the American people. It brings a measure of justice for the country of Mexico, whose institution were corrupted for decades by the Sinaloa cartel,” said Brian Bezczkowski, assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice.
“If you pump hundreds of thousands of tons of cocaine and other drugs into our country, we will find you, we will extricate you, we will prosecute you, and we will bring you to justice.”
The jury heard testimony from 56 witnesses, including 14 who had reached agreements with federal prosecutors to provide evidence against Guzman, and dozens more with hopes of negotiating plea bargains in their own cases.
The most important witness was Colombian drug lord Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia, whose face was disfigured from undergoing plastic surgery to elude authorities and who spoke about murdering people without any emotion.
Jurors also heard from Guzman associates including Damaso Alonso, Jesus “El Rey” (The King) Zambada and the latter’s nephew, Vicentillo Zambada.
El Chapo, who twice escaped from maximum-security prisons in Mexico, was captured in January 2016 in Los Mochis, Sinaloa state, in January 2016 and extradited to the United States on Jan. 19, 2017.
Mexican authorities said that they were assisted in tracking down Guzman for the final time by monitoring contacts between Chapo and actress Kate del Castillo, best known for her role as a powerful, tequila-drinking drug trafficker in the 2011 telenovela “La Reina del Sur” (The Queen of the South).
News about Del Castillo’s ties to Guzman came to light on Jan. 9, 2016, when Rolling Stone magazine published an article that American actor-turned-gonzo journalist Sean Penn wrote about his secret visit with Guzman in October 2015 at his hideout in northwestern Mexico.
Penn said Del Castillo, whom Guzman had contacted via his lawyers about a possible film about his rags-to-riches story, had arranged the visit and accompanied him to the hideout.
Chapo, who grew up in grinding poverty, was regularly listed on Forbes magazine’s list of global billionaires and the court in Brooklyn heard testimony from one of Guzman’s closest aides that he made a $100 million payoff to former Mexican President Enrique Peńa Nieto, who denied the claim.