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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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Brandywhispers February 25 2014 at 10:05 AM

Give him an overdose of Cocaine and be done with it

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1 reply
deerslamer Brandywhispers February 25 2014 at 10:20 AM

amen to that

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DAVID LEAVELL February 25 2014 at 10:23 AM

Ah, the smell of money has the system salivating , I'm sure the lawyers would drag this case out for several years until the money was gone and then the case would close. He is nothing more than an escaped convict that's been captured, so now that should be done with.

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kcaron1504 February 25 2014 at 9:35 AM

Enough palms that get heavily greased with a ton of cash and he will " Escape" again.

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1 reply
nam2205 kcaron1504 February 25 2014 at 9:37 AM

There is no doubt in my mind that you are correct. And if he is tried in Mexico they will let him go for sure.

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perlathomas February 25 2014 at 11:44 AM

US should insist in the extradition. It is very difficult to believed that he was capture so easy and in a very little town, this was a political plan and if Mexico is fighting for the no extradition, this means they negociated his capture with him. If he stays in a mexican jail, he is going to have 1rst class service. Mexico is a very corrupt country and this criminal is mega wealthy.

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1 reply
netecutli perlathomas February 25 2014 at 12:10 PM

Get your head out of your ass moron, the US is just as corrupt. Guzman does have enough money to buy both Mexican and US officials. He will not be extradited. Mexico has at least 60 solid charges on him now. And yes, even in jail he will live like a king.

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Linda February 25 2014 at 9:33 AM

They should have shot him in the head the first time and we wouldn't be worried about how long he will serve in anyones prison. Won't matter where they send him now, our prisons are like kindergarten class with TV, games, and access to anything & everything they want. Gitmo would have been a good place for him, but - Oh Well. Court systems & Prisons - Pffttt!!! The punishment should fit the crime, and in his case, a bullet in the head was almost too good for the scumbag.

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Randy February 25 2014 at 9:30 AM

He should be tried in Mexico... if the corrupt and inept Obama cabal gets involved, he will be appointed as the special assistant czar of the drug war to the bribable Eric Holder.... and probably be given authority over the borders.

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2 replies
nam2205 Randy February 25 2014 at 9:38 AM

He is probably Holders boss.

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s48man Randy February 25 2014 at 9:40 AM

You are another fool that cant leave your politics out of anything now we know just why this country is in the shape it is nuthing ever posted here is without one moron posting about politics.

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bryanmerrittper2 February 25 2014 at 9:25 AM

He'll get maybe 20 years max in a Mexican prison and if you are a rich drug lord you can pay the prison officials and live like a king in there. You can have all the stuff you had on the outside including nice bed and fine clothes drugs booze beautiful girls brought in for sex anything you want if you got the money. Kinda like club med .. And he will still get to run his cartel just like before.

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1 reply
CUSACitizen bryanmerrittper2 February 25 2014 at 9:36 AM

That might be true, but to spend 20 years locked up is not fun even if the cell bars are made out of gold. However, the silver bullet to fight illegal drugs is to reduce demand to a trickle, imagine if we could reduce addicts by even 80%. But as long as there is such a high demand there will be a supplier. We will never stop the drug dealers until we stop demand. That applies to anything, that is why so many products have disappeared from the Market.

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rjweishaar February 25 2014 at 10:30 AM

U.S. should back off the extradition. This guy is in all sence of the word a "Terrorist" in Mexico. He is responsible for scores of murders throughout Mexico and the U.S. He should be treated as such. Besides, Mexican prisons are real prisons, not baby sitting factories like here. He should be judged by his people, many who have been affected directly by the cartel's actions. I believe Mexico is the better place for his trial, followed by the first class hanging.

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1 reply
reginatorw rjweishaar February 25 2014 at 10:41 AM

Agree, it's more for bolstering the Mexican Governments position for Chapo's trial.

Now let's see how long before someone else takes up the slack.

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Dave February 25 2014 at 9:23 AM

Why bother to try him, just shoot him.

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rtgarton February 25 2014 at 9:20 AM

Nothing going to happen to this guy. He gets a slap on the wrist and is sent to a country club prison.

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1 reply
Randy rtgarton February 25 2014 at 9:32 AM

Well, at least in Mexico he'll be a convict at the "country club" prison - if the corrupt and inept obama cabal gets him, he will be the next drug czar for the bribable eric holder and probably also be given control over border enforcement.

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