NEW: Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman makes first US court appearance with Friday arraignment
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Drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, a Houdini-like master of escape accused of running one of the world’s largest drug trafficking organizations, entered a not guilty plea through his attorney at an arraignment Friday in federal court in Brooklyn.
The diminutive, clean-shaven trafficker, described by a federal official as “the most notorious criminal of modern time,” was not handcuffed and wore a dark blue short-sleeved shirt and pants with white sneakers during his brief appearance in a packed courtroom.
Magistrate Judge James Orenstein asked Guzman whether he understood the charges, including the operation of a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiring to murder rivals, firearms violations and money laundering.
In a low voice, the defendant replied: “Si, Señor.”
His arraignment in US District Court for the Eastern District of New York came one day after Guzman was quietly extradited from his native Mexico to the US.
Guzman’s next court appearance was set for February 3.
“Who is Chapo Guzman?” US Attorney Robert Capers of the Eastern District of New York asked rhetorically while addressing reporters before the arraignment. “In short, he is a man who has known no other life than one of crime, violence, death and destruction.”
Stringent security measures were put in place around the Manhattan jail where Guzman is to be held, a law enforcement source said. The Brooklyn Bridge will be closed while the drug lord is being transported to court.
Guzman, 59, is named in a sweeping 17-count indictment alleging that from 1989 to 2014 he led a continuing criminal enterprise responsible for importing and distributing massive amounts of narcotics and conspiring to murder rivals who posed a threat, according to Capers.
Guzman is also charged with firearm violations related to drug trafficking and money laundering connected to the smuggling from the United States to Mexico of more than $14 billion in cash from narcotics sales.
The charges carry a minimum sentence of life in prison, Capers said. Federal prosecutors also intend to seek a $14 billion criminal forfeiture order against Guzman.
He’s no Robin Hood
“Guzman’s story is not one of a do-gooder or a Robin Hood or even one of a famous escape artist who miraculously escaped from Mexican prisons on multiple occasions,” Capers told reporters Friday.
The US attorney compared Guzman’s “destructive and murderous rise” to “a small cancerous tumor that metastasized and grew into a full-blown scourge that for decades littered the streets of Mexico with the casualties of violent drug wars … (and) helped to perpetrate the drug epidemic here in the US.”
When Guzman got off of the plane in New York Thursday night, some law enforcement officers noticed a different demeanor than that his mythic persona.
“As you looked into his eyes you can see the surprise, you can see the shock, and to a certain extent you can actually see the fear as the realization started to kick in that he’s about to face American justice,” said Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations, New York.