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US prosecutors jockeying to try captured drug lord

US Prosecutors Jockeying To Try Captured Drug Lord

WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal prosecutors across the United States are already jockeying over who will handle any case against drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, even though it's far from clear whether he'll ever be brought to this country to face charges.

Who in the U.S. gets to prosecute the longtime fugitive, apprehended over the weekend in Mexico and now charged with violating his country's drug trafficking laws, likely will turn on which office has the strongest case - and perhaps some politics.

"You want No. 1 to be the best shot that you have," said David Weinstein, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Florida in Miami who helped prosecute several high-profile suspected drug traffickers from Colombia and Haiti in his 11 years in the office. "What do they say? If you shoot at the king, you make sure you hit him in the head."

At least seven federal district courts have indictments pending against Guzman on a variety of charges, and several already are pressing for extradition. He had been dubbed "public enemy No. 1" in Chicago even before his arrest at a Mexican beach resort. He's wanted as well by federal prosecutors in New York City, and years-old indictments in San Diego and Texas charge Guzman with masterminding a mammoth cocaine trafficking operation.

The Justice Department hasn't said whether it plans to seek extradition, allowing only that it will be "the subject of further discussion between the United States and Mexico."

Guzman is imprisoned in Mexico, where a judge will soon decide whether to release him or start the process of bringing him to trial. His lawyers filed an appeal Monday seeking to halt any attempt to extradite him, a common legal tactic used by drug suspects in Mexico.

Any extradition request and its timing will be determined at the highest levels of the Justice Department, almost certainly with input from the State Department, said Marcos Jimenez, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida whose cases have included several high-ranking Colombian drug cartel figures who were brought to the state for trial.

While those cases had their own political complications, the fate of Guzman, one of the world's most-wanted drug traffickers, is likely to be even more complicated. "There is going to be a lot of diplomatic back and forth," Jimenez said.

Mexico's Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong told The Associated Press on Monday that he has no knowledge of a formal extradition request from the United States, though he has heard expressions of interest. He said the Mexican government will evaluate and analyze any petition that comes in.

There's plenty of precedent for international defendants facing multiple U.S. indictments. Some defendants make appearances in multiple states.

Luis Hernando Gomez-Bustamante, a Colombian drug cartel leader whose operation exported more than 500,000 kilograms of cocaine, was detained by Cuban authorities in 2004, was extradited to the United States and eventually pleaded guilty in both New York - where he was indicted prior to his arrest - and Washington.

Sometimes allegations in different jurisdictions are resolved through a single guilty plea. Eric Justin Toth, a former Washington private school teacher once featured on the FBI's most-wanted list, was captured in Nicaragua last year and returned to face child pornography charges. His guilty plea in Washington also covered a separate pending indictment issued in Maryland.

Since Guzman's arrest, federal prosecutors in both New York City and Chicago have said they want to try the case. Law enforcement authorities whose offices have worked the case the longest, have the strongest set of facts to win a conviction and have the resources to handle a massive criminal case would likely be in the best position, according to lawyers familiar with the process.

Chicago authorities, for instance, contend the city is a major hub for Guzman's Sinaloa drug cartel. Two high-up dealers are already cooperating with prosecutors, and an alleged Sinaloa lieutenant is awaiting trial there.

In San Diego, where Guzman is also under indictment, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy has built a career on prosecuting the Arellano Felix cartel. Benjamin Arellano Felix was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison in 2012, the highest-profile among many who were extradited from Mexico. Mexico waited nine years to extradite him following his arrest in 2002.

"These kinds of fights between U.S. attorneys' offices are quite common. Often they take a long time to make the decision," said David B. Smith, a former Justice Department narcotics prosecutor who said such discussions often involve political considerations and sometimes even favoritism.

But Robert Feitel, a former prosecutor in the Justice Department's narcotics and dangerous drugs section, said he's skeptical that Guzman will ever be prosecuted in the United States. He said Mexico typically has insisted on affidavits professing firsthand knowledge of the criminal conduct of a defendant wanted for extradition, creating a heavy burden.

Though Mexican authorities would not have to worry about Guzman escaping from prison - he did that in Mexico in 2001 - if they sent him to the U.S., they would certainly be reluctant to turn over such a prominent figure in the country's drug war, Feitel said.

"He's a terrorist in their nation," he said. "Could you imagine if we were to send someone like him to Mexico if the situation was reversed?"

Osorio Chong dismissed concern about Guzman escaping again.

"We think he's being perfectly guarded and watched, and we don't think it's necessary to do anything else," Osorio Chong said. "He will be very isolated. He won't be allowed to continue with his operations."

Join the discussion

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mazdapub February 25 2014 at 11:06 AM

He is Mexico's problem. I don't want my tax money spet to bring this guy to trail and then feed him in jail for the res of his life. Drug problem will persist as long as we Americans are willing to pay for it and shove it up our noses. The real problem is right here.

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JAKE February 25 2014 at 9:57 AM

The Mexican authorities are building a new prison for Guzman - to his specifications - on the beach.

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Kris February 25 2014 at 10:31 AM

Hang the dirty little Mexican. Why should we endure the price of prosecution? The prison system in CA is full of the same! We got another 20 million law breaking illegal Mexicans here to get deported!!!

Why does this site allow those darn comments about that bogus on-line work???

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2 replies
reginatorw Kris February 25 2014 at 10:40 AM

Let's hope you don't get caught with your mouth open in a Mexican village, not alone a Mexican jail.

You may wish to update your research (loose term for you) and see the actual numbers of incarcerated in every state. Seems you have issues that can be cured with ACA.

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coreelectric Kris February 25 2014 at 10:42 AM

I flag all of them as abuse so they will go away.

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chckpope February 25 2014 at 9:56 AM

I will, he's guilty, I sentence him to the death.

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kingsvardo2 February 25 2014 at 9:51 AM

He's Mexico's problem, we have to eradicate all the BIG drug dealers here, so there won't be a market for his product. The druggies here along with all those " experimenting " with drugs need to be arrested here so they are eliminated as a market for those supplying the drugs. Let's put all drug buyers, dealers and users in jail instead of states allowing their constituents to use MARIJUANA for medicinal purposes, what a joke !!! I hope Texas never buys into the let them use marijuana.

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1 reply
savedbyruins kingsvardo2 February 25 2014 at 9:59 AM

lol. I wish people like you are the ones that get sent to camps... Two hundred and rising. That's the death tally for the Obama administration's "Operation Fast & Furious." The program was supposedly designed to "win the drug war" by deliberately walking more than two thousand guns across the border to Mexico. But instead of catching drug lords, Fast & Furious armed the very king pins it was supposed to trap. Despite the protests of gun store owners and ATF whistle-blowers, federal agents deliberately violated federal law—and common sense—and wound up placing American weapons into the hands of Mexico's most violent criminals. And when the guns started showing up at crime scenes—including the murder scene of a U.S. border patrol agent—the cover-up began. So is that only mexico's problem too

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nevadan99 February 25 2014 at 9:49 AM

Let Mexico try him. Won't cost us a dime. Much quicker justice.

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sracer2002 February 25 2014 at 9:48 AM

Shoot him up with heroin, let him feel the pain of addiction as he has done with so many.

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sonny February 25 2014 at 9:44 AM

Pity. There will be no justice in this case and tons of espense, he should never have been taken alive.

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michelle February 25 2014 at 9:43 AM

Mexico let him slip away in 2001. Either put a bullet in his head or send him to the US to stand trial. The Mexican government and law enforcement is so corrupt that he would probably slip away again.

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1 reply
hmike0 michelle February 25 2014 at 9:59 AM

I understand that some Mexican officials are corrupt but so are ours and dont act like no one has never escaped from an American prison.

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morphiss7 February 25 2014 at 12:12 PM

Mexico isn't going to let him be extradited !!! Who do these states think they are ?? its a bunch of attorneys trying to get into the limelight. Is a wonder Gloria Allred isn't offering to defend him hahahahahahaah What a pathetic country is the US has become.

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1 reply
kelley schuetz morphiss7 February 25 2014 at 12:24 PM

If you are so unhappy with the U.S. , maybe you should move to Mexico !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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1 reply
lalalexm1 kelley schuetz February 25 2014 at 12:30 PM

morphiss7 has ever right to voice his opinion, Kelley and if you have a problem with that move to Russia.

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