By Rob Abruzzese
As attorneys for the alleged drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman Loera, better known as “El Chapo,” continue to push to delay the start of his trial, the Brooklyn federal court judge in charge of the case warned one of his attorneys to stop texting government witnesses.
Government prosecutors made a motion this week to impose sanctions on defense counsel Eduardo Balarezo after he texted a cooperating witness on Sept. 23, "You know the gov outed (cooperating witness)? See you in EDNY."
Balarezo admitted to U.S. District Court Judge Brian Cogan, for the Eastern District of New York, that he sent the text, but argued that it did not violate the protective order because he had gained the knowledge on his own rather than gaining it through discovery, according to court records.
Judge Cogan ruled that a sanction is not justified, but added that he is “very concerned” over the conduct.
“Although Mr. Balarezo claims that the text message was not malicious and did not convey any threats, his use of the term ‘outed’ plainly suggests that the Government somehow failed to protect the witness's identity from the public,” Judge Cogan wrote in his decision.
“Mr. Balarezo knew or should have known that his attorney friend would understand the message's potentially serious implications, and would not only likely communicate the ‘outed’ comment to the cooperating witness, but that his attorney friend was probably obligated to do so,” Judge Cogan continued.
The judge then ordered Balarezo to avoid disclosing or acting on any non-public information related to the case in the future.
“Defense counsel are also prohibited from contacting cooperating witnesses, their lawyers, or their friends and family about the Government's efforts to protect those witnesses,” Judge Cogan wrote. “Any future conduct like the kind at issue here will constitute a sanctionable violation of this order.”
As they have done regularly during status conferences over the past year, El Chapo’s lawyers once again requested that the trial be delayed and argued for more time to prepare. On Wednesday, attorneys said they still need to read through the estimated 13,000 pages of evidence that prosecutors recently handed over.
Judge Cogan admitted that the case is exceptionally large, but denied this request once again. The trial, which is expected to last three to four months, is expected to start on Nov. 5.
Prosecutors have charged that El Chapo was the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, which became the largest drug trafficking organization in the world. The cartel allegedly employed “sicarios” who were hitmen that carried out “hundreds of acts of violence,” according to prosecutors.
El Chapo faces life in prison if prosecutors can prove charges that he ran a criminal enterprise, and distributed cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana that was smuggled from Mexico into the United States. He also faces charges of murder conspiracy. The U.S. had to promise that he wouldn’t face the death penalty as part of the extradition agreement with Mexico.