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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."

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Alphonso Carioti February 25 2014 at 5:57 AM

He should be tried in a country that shoots first and asks questions later.

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2 replies
klentpeterson Alphonso Carioti February 25 2014 at 6:12 AM

they should allow the government to take justice on him even kill him cos drug trafficking need death as penalty

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Kushy Alphonso Carioti February 25 2014 at 6:22 AM

Thats kind of stupid. You want to ask questions because no doubt this person has the scoop on many many officials on both sides of the border. They know it and he knows many turned a blind eye or were paid off to move his products. I doubt he makes it to trial. Next headline will be he was found hanging in his cell and claim he committed suicide. Then the next question would be who else has this info and you can bet someone he totally trusts knows what he knows and wouldn't hesitate to use some of it. He didn't stay in business as many years as he has moving product by land sea and air with out someone in both govt's help or knowledge. Who believes the fairy tales about he made it by ruthless killings and hiding in mountains only.

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2 replies
accordmee Kushy February 25 2014 at 6:47 AM

You're right, he might may never make it to trial but i think the reason he does'nt is a little different from your senerio. He might be able to buy his way out of it. Like you said, he probably has a lot of information on a lot of people and i don' t see witness protection as being out of the question with a dead stand-in hanging in his cell.

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Kushy Kushy February 25 2014 at 7:07 AM

accordmee, I agree with your scenario too. There were rumors a few yrs back that he had some plastic surgery so a little tweak here and there, new identity and voila he's free. Even with out the tweaks if he didn't live extravagantly he could blend in in any hispanic neighborhood/or country well.

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gunsnnovas February 25 2014 at 7:46 AM

Guzman was captured by the Mexican Marines. He's theirs unless they want someone else to have him. He is a Mexican national, operating with Mexico as his primary base and home. He has violated Mexican law. That he also violated other countries laws by proxy does not give them the right to prosecute BEFORE his own nation.

American officials would laugh if the tables were turned.

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1 reply
Hey There Special gunsnnovas February 25 2014 at 8:03 AM

yup and put all his wealth to good use for the poor in mexico

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czerangue February 25 2014 at 7:37 AM

all the lawyers in Mexico and the U.S. will bilk him dry for years they all will get rich and when the money runs out they will throw him in prison in either country until then they will feast on good food and drink and laugh about it all. it,s a game to them but one that they can retire on

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1 reply
Hey There Special czerangue February 25 2014 at 8:05 AM

yo yo show me the money you got that right

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skitzlpk February 25 2014 at 7:32 AM

When El Chapo was apprehended, he was found with an AK-47. It's unfortunate the coward, much like OBL, didn't fire a shot in an attempt to escape or defend himself. He knew his chances within a justice system were pretty good that at the worst, he'd live out his days in a cushy cell where his hidden billions would eventually offer him freedom. One bullet fired from his weapon & we wouldn't be having this conversation now & the world would be free of one less toxin..

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2 replies
Hey There Special skitzlpk February 25 2014 at 8:07 AM

yup he is very smart cook-a-racha

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Cha skitzlpk February 25 2014 at 10:44 AM

fully agree

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martinwarfel February 25 2014 at 6:47 AM

Not very good choices here:
A. Mexico puts him on trial and the crooked judges and intimidated jurors let him off.
B. We put him in one of our prisons where he continues to run the business.
This guy is responsible for decapitating countless people - get rid of him.

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1 reply
Bill martinwarfel February 25 2014 at 7:29 AM

my same thought . but i dint have the balls to say it...............

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cjesmom3 February 25 2014 at 6:42 AM

The only way to get rid of scum like this is to put him and others like him out of business. Out the addicts and push those on the fence into public record. In many small towns the local papers publish police call records. Add fire department calls and keep investigative reporters on it. Residents and their families try and stay off that list and it seems to be quite effective. Forget the privacy claims, they gave that up when they decided to commit crimes. Plus the public can see where their tax dollars are going with these services.

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Hectito February 25 2014 at 6:36 AM

El Chapo, if prosecuted in Mexico and encarcerated there will be free within one year or so. He has the Government there on payroll.

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crsgomez February 25 2014 at 6:02 AM

ONLY THE CASE WITH THE DEATH PENALTY SHOULD GET HIM!!!!

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bdgrizcp February 25 2014 at 7:31 AM

Mexico caught him in Mexico. They get the first crack at him. I hope for their sake they keep him in their version of Supermax and they vet every guard carefully--it only takes one corrupt guard to make all the nightmare scenarios come true. One thing about bringing him to the US--money. These prosecutions will cost plenty. Is a conviction here worth it? In the US, most prisoner escapes occur during prisoner transport.

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matterajr February 25 2014 at 7:17 AM

Keep him in Mexico, the US needs to quit trying to be the the police of the world. Tax payer don't need to cloth and feed more criminals in are prisons. Guzman's arrest does not hurt the drug traffic coming into this country because someone else has already taken his place as the new drug leader.

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