By Rob Abruzzese
Queens Daily Eagle
Federal court judge Brian Cogan ruled against a motion by the defense of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán to move his trial out of Brooklyn and into Manhattan during a hearing Tuesday morning at the Eastern District of NY courthouse.
Guzmán is charged with leading the Sinaloa Cartel drug cartel, which flooded Queens — and locations throughout the U.S. — with thousands of kilos of cocaine and heroin. In one bust, authorities seized 1,997 kilos of cocaine linked to the cartel from a warehouse in Queens, according to court documents. The drugs were worth nearly $40 million.
Guzmán also allegedly directed the systematic torture and murder of enemies, rivals and law enforcement officers.
Guzmán’s defense attorney A. Eduardo Balarezo had requested a change in venue from Brooklyn to Manhattan because transporting Guzmán creates a spectacle and disrupts commuting New Yorkers, which he contends could potentially taint the jury pool.
That spectacle is a result of the Brooklyn Bridge being closed each time Guzmán has to appear in court.
“The government transported Mr. Guzmán to the MCC (Metropolitan Correctional Center) in a multi-vehicle motorcade that included several marked police cars, black Suburban SUVs, an ambulance and an emergency response vehicle,” Balarezo wrote about the process of transporting Guzmán in and out of his holding cell.
Balarezo later added, “In this case, the unprecedented, highly visible, and disruptive security measures taken by the government every time it transports Mr. Guzmán, are likely to be seen or heard about by innumerable potential and seated jurors and run the precise risk the Supreme Court warned against: that Mr. Guzmán, while presumed innocent, is already considered by authorities to be an extreme danger to the community.”
There were as many as seven federal courts that tried to host Guzmán’s trial when he was initially extradited to the U.S. It is believed that the trial was ultimately sent to Brooklyn due to its history with prosecuting complex drug cases, and its connection to Loretta Lynch, the former U.S. Attorney who became Attorney General under President Barack Obama.
While the trial is being held in Brooklyn, Guzmán is detained in Manhattan because the MCC is generally believed to be much more secure than Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center, and Guzmán has broken out of prison twice.
The judge didn’t explain his reasoning for denying the request, but said that the court would try to address the logistical concerns of transporting Guzmán.
Moving Guzmán from the Manhattan prison to a Brooklyn prison likely wouldn’t work because while shutting down half of the Brooklyn Bridge each time Guzmán is transported sounds excessive, the trip from the EDNY courthouse to the MCC in Manhattan is less than half the distance of the trip from the EDNY to the MDC in Brooklyn. Transporting him from Sunset Park to Downtown Brooklyn would require shutting down the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway or local streets.
Other topics discussed at Tuesday’s conference included issues of discovery, and issues of evidence. Defense attorneys have also pressed the government about witnesses that will testify at trial.
Prosecutors said Tuesday that they expect that the trial, which is expected to begin in Nov., will last approximately sixteen weeks. Guzmán is due back in court on Sept. 20 for another status conference.
Guzmán, who was extradited to the U.S. from Mexico in Jan. 2017, has pleaded not guilty to a 17-count indictment that accused him of operating a vast criminal enterprise that is suspected of murder conspiracies, drug trafficking and money laundering. Prosecutors are seeking life in prison.