Feds: El Chapo’s Sons Indicted on Drug Conspiracy Charges

Feds: El Chapo’s Sons Indicted on Drug Conspiracy Charges
Judge Brian Cogan upper right, gives instructions to jurors in the trial of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in New York. On Feb. 20, 2019, El Chapo’s lawyers raised concerns of potential juror misconduct and said they were reviewing “all available options” after a juror at the notorious Mexican drug lord’s trial told a news website that several jurors looked at media coverage of the case against a judge’s orders. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON—Two sons of notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman have been indicted on drug conspiracy charges, the Justice Department said on Feb. 21.

Joaquin Guzman Lopez, 34, and Ovidio Guzman Lopez, 28, are charged in a single-count indictment that was unsealed last week in Washington.

Prosecutors allege the two brothers conspired to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana into the United States from Mexico and elsewhere in the world from 2008 to 2018. They are both believed to be living in Mexico and remain fugitives.

Their father was convicted earlier this month on drug and conspiracy charges in New York. During a trial that lasted more than three months, prosecutors portrayed El Chapo as the calculating leader of a bloodthirsty smuggling operation that funneled tons of cocaine and other drugs into American cities. The offenses could put him behind bars for the rest of his life.

Prosecutors have said Guzman, who twice escaped from prison in Mexico and was extradited to the United States last year for his trial, had amassed a multibillion-dollar fortune smuggling tons of cocaine and other drugs in a vast supply chain that reached well north of the border.

His lawyers raised concerns of potential juror misconduct after a juror told VICE News that several members of the panel looked at media coverage of the case and followed Twitter feeds of reporters, against a judge’s orders, making them aware of potentially prejudicial material that jurors weren’t supposed to see.

Attorney Jeffrey Lichtman told The Associated Press on Thursday that there are now serious questions surrounding Guzman’s conviction this month on drug-smuggling and conspiracy charges, and that he plans to ask District Judge Brian Cogan to bring in all 12 jurors and six alternates to question them about reports several flouted admonitions to avoid media accounts of the case.

In some cases, similar jury shenanigans have been deemed prejudicial enough to warrant a new trial, a possibility experts say can’t be ruled out in Guzman’s case.

“This is a question about fundamental fairness,” said former federal prosecutor Duncan Levin. “It’s presumptively prejudicial for a juror to have this information, and it’s a step more outrageous for them to have accessed it when the judge specifically told them not to.”

In El Chapo’s case, the anonymous jurors were not sequestered but were escorted by U.S. marshals to court, where they were required to give up their phones. They were allowed access to their devices at any other time, though the judge gave them a standard instruction each day not to view news or social media about the case.

Drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted into a helicopter at Mexico City's airport on Jan. 8, 2016. (Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images)
Drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted into a helicopter at Mexico City's airport on Jan. 8, 2016. (Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images)
Still, the juror who spoke with VICE News said five jurors involved in the deliberations and two alternates had heard about child rape allegations that had been made against Guzman and covered by the news media but not admitted into the trial. The juror also described an instance in which a juror used a smartwatch to look up a news story just moments after Cogan met with them privately to ask them whether they had been exposed to any recent media coverage.

But convincing Cogan that the misconduct was real and that it is enough to order a new trial is a long shot, said former federal prosecutor Michael J. Stern.

“The judge will have to decide whether there was a reasonable possibility that the information could have affected the jury’s verdict,” Stern said.

Either way, Lichtman said, the revelations surrounding the panel that convicted his client are “sad and distressing.”

Guzman, who is facing a mandatory life sentence, “is going to die in jail,” he said. “That’s why I repeatedly asked the jury to just give him a fair trial. It turns out that was too much to ask.”

By Michael Balsamo, Jim Mustian And Tom Hays