Joaquin Guzman Pleads Not Guilty A Day After Surprise Extradition

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Saying they were bringing the world’s most notorious drug lord to justice, U.S. prosecutors on Friday described Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman as the murderous architect of a 3-decade-long web of violence, corruption and drug addiction and announced they were seeking a $14 billion forfeiture from him.

Extradited Thursday from Mexico, Guzman, 59, pleaded not guilty Friday in a federal court in Brooklyn. Prosecutors have sought to bring him to a U.S. court for years while he made brazen prison escapes and spent years on the run in Mexico.

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“Today marks a milestone in our pursuit of Chapo Guzman,” said Robert Capers, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn. “He’s a man known for a life of crime, violence, death and destruction, and now he’ll have to answer for that.”

As CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported, a caravan of law enforcement vehicles brought Guzman, to court.

Once the hearing began, A hush descended over a Brooklyn courtroom moments before a dazed-looking Guzman entered. Security at the courthouse was stepped up to levels used for terror suspects, with officers armed with assault rifles and bomb-sniffing dogs.

Holding his unshackled hands behind his back, Guzman appeared calm and collected as he gave yes and no answers, through an interpreter, to a judge’s questions.

He entered his not-guilty plea through his court-appointed lawyer to drug trafficking and other charges and will be held without bail in a jail that has handled terror suspects and mobsters.

“It is difficult to imagine another person with a greater risk of fleeing prosecution,” prosecutors wrote in court papers.

The Drug Enforcement Administration flew Guzman to New York from Ciudad Juarez late Thursday, according to federal officials.

“Guzman’s destructive and murderous rise as an international narcotics trafficker is akin to that of a small cancerous tumor that metastasized and grew into a full born scourge,” Capers said.

In exclusive video, Guzman was seen in a hangar at MacArthur Airport on Long Island after landing on a jet, CBS2’s Janelle Burrell reported.

Chopper 2 was overhead as federal agents surrounded the aircraft on the tarmac just after it touched down around 9:30 p.m. He was then whisked away in a caravan of SUVs.

When Guzman got off the plane, “as you looked into his eyes, you could see the surprise, you could see the shock, and to a certain extent, you could see the fear, as the realization kicked in that he’s about to face American justice,” said Angel Melendez, who leads U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s homeland security investigations in New York.

The U.S. has been trying to get Guzman in a U.S. court since he was first indicted in Southern California in the early 1990s. Now in his late 50s, he faces the possibility of life in a U.S. prison under indictments in six jurisdictions around the United States, including New York, San Diego, Chicago and Miami.

As boss of the Sinaloa cartel, Guzman presided over a syndicate that shipped tons of heroin and cocaine to the U.S., using tanker trucks, planes with secret landing strips, container ships, speedboats and even submarines, prosecutors said. Perhaps most famously, Guzman’s cartel built elaborate tunnels under the U.S. border to transport drugs, said Wifredo Ferrer, the U.S. attorney in Miami.

The cartel made billions of dollars in profits — hence prosecutors’ bid for a $14 billion forfeiture — and employed hit men who carried out murders, kidnappings and acts of torture, according to prosecutors. The Sinaloa smugglers also helped fuel an epidemic of drug abuse in the U.S. in the 1980s and `90s, the prosecutors said.

He’s expected to be prosecuted in Brooklyn. The U.S. attorney’s office there has substantial experience prosecuting international drug cartel cases and was once led by outgoing U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

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It wasn’t immediately clear who would represent Guzman in court; a lawyer is to be appointed.

Guzman had been held most recently at a prison near Ciudad Juarez, a border town across from El Paso, Texas. He was recaptured a year ago after escaping from a maximum-security prison for a second time, an episode that was highly embarrassing for President Enrique Pena Nieto’s government.

Mexican officials were seen as eager to hand him off to the United States. But Guzman’s lawyers fought his extradition, and attorney Andres Granados accused the government of carrying it out Thursday to distract from nationwide gasoline protests.

“It was illegal. They didn’t even notify us,” Granados said. “It’s totally political.”

Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department said a court had ruled against Guzman’s appeal and found that his extradition would be constitutional.

The extradition came on the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration. As a candidate, the Republican president criticized Mexico for sending the U.S. “criminals and rapists” and vowed to build a wall at the Mexican border and have Mexico pay for it. Mexican officials have said they wouldn’t pay for such a structure.

Sources tell CBS News the Mexican government’s decision to release Guzman to U.S. authorities was done as a political message, a sign of goodwill to both the incoming and outgoing administrations.

After breaking out of prison the first time in 2001, Guzman spent more than a decade at large, becoming something of a folk legend among some Mexicans for his defiance of authorities. He was immortalized in ballads known as “narco-corridos.”

Captured in 2014, Guzman then made an even more audacious escape, coolly stepping into a hole in the floor of his prison cell shower and whizzing to freedom on a motorcycle modified to run on tracks laid the length of the tunnel.

While again on the run, he secretly met with actors Sean Penn and Kate del Castillo in a fall 2015 encounter that Penn later chronicled in Rolling Stone magazine.

Guzman was unapologetic about his criminal activities, saying he had turned to drug trafficking at age 15 to survive.

“The only way to have money to buy food, to survive, is to grow poppy, marijuana, and at that age, I began to grow it, to cultivate it and to sell it. That is what I can tell you,” he was quoted as saying in Penn’s article, published right after Mexican marines re-arrested Guzman last January.

Guzman was ultimately captured after a shootout that killed five of his associates, wounded one marine and added another dramatic chapter to a story even Guzman apparently thought sounded like a Hollywood movie: Authorities were able to track him down partly because he wanted to film a biopic and had representatives communicating with actors and producers, Mexican Attorney General Arely Gomez said at the time.

Guzman’s next court hearing is set for Feb. 3. He could spend the rest of his life in a U.S. prison if convicted.

Federal attorneys said the Mexican government only agreed to extradite Guzman if there was no possibility of the death penalty.

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