Guzman is charged with running a massive drug smuggling operation that laundered more than $14 billion and faces other charges that include operation of a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiring to murder rivals and firearms violations.
The charges carry a minimum sentence of life in prison, according to US Attorney Robert Capers of the Eastern District of New York. Mexico’s foreign ministry handed Guzman over to the US prosecutors in January after it said it had received assurances that if convicted, Guzman would not receive the death penalty. Mexico opposes capital punishment.
A US judge initially ruled that Guzman, 59, would appear in court by video, but the order was changed after his attorneys asked the court to reconsider.
Guzman has been detained in the nine-story Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn since his extradition.
A game of cat-and-mouse
A day after his extradition, the master of escape, “El Chapo” pleaded not guilty in the New York federal court.
The indictment alleges that from 1989 to 2014 Guzman led a continuing criminal enterprise responsible for importing and distributing massive amounts of narcotics and conspiring to murder rivals who posed a threat, Capers said.
For years, the notorious cartel leader played a game of cat-and-mouse with the law.
In January 2001, he escaped from a prison in Jalisco in a laundry cart. Guzman was apprehended in February 2014. He escaped again in July 2015 from the maximum-security Altiplano federal prison near Toluca, Mexico, by crawling through an opening in the shower area of his cell block leading to a mile-long tunnel. He was later captured in January 2016.
“El Chapo” is the noted leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, which the US Justice Department describes as “one of the world’s most prolific, violent and powerful drug cartels,” moving billions upon billions of dollars in marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
The trafficking of heroin, marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine into the United States from Mexico is an annual $19 billion to $20 billion industry, according to a Department of Homeland Security report.