Defense attorneys for Joaquin Guzman, the Mexican drug lord known as "El Chapo," sought to have some of the strict security measures surrounding the drug kingpin's incarceration relaxed during an appearance in federal court in Brooklyn this morning. But Judge Brian Cogan, without mentioning Guzman's prior two prison escapes, said, "They're taking extra security measures. I think we all know the reasons for that."
Guzman, who was most recently recaptured in Mexico in January 2016, was extradited to the United States last month for alleged drug crimes.
A heavy police presence this morning escorted Guzman from the high-security Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan to a Brooklyn federal courthouse after Guzman's lawyers challenged the government's plan for him to appear in court via closed circuit TV from his MCC cell. The 12 car-caravan shut down the outbound Brooklyn Bridge for 15 minutes.
The defense asked for permission for Guzman's wife, who was present in court, to visit him, but the judge deferred to prison officials, who have previously rejected the request.
Guzman, who appeared in court today in navy prison garb, appeared to acknowledge his wife, former teen beauty queen Emma Coronel. This was the first time Coronel had seen her husband since he was incarcerated in the U.S.
Guzman is on a 23-hour lockdown in jail. Guzman's attorney Michelle Gelernt told reporters after court that her client is only permitted to leave his cell to speak to "limited members" of the defense team and for one hour of exercise a day.
Gelernt called the security measure "extremely restrictive" and said he should eventually be allowed to make phone calls to his attorneys and have visits with his wife.
"We believe that in light of the fact that he has caused no security problems since he's come to this country, he's conducted himself the way he should in court and with the agents who arrested him, that the current restrictions are excessive," she said.
The 17-count indictment filed in the Eastern District of New York against Guzman alleges that between 1989 and 2014, Guzman, as the leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, ran a "criminal enterprise responsible for importing into the United States and distributing massive amounts of illegal narcotics and for conspiring to murder people who posed a threat to the narcotics enterprise," according to a Department of Justice statement.
The government is also demanding that Guzman surrender $14 billion "in drug proceeds and illicit profits," the Department of Justice said, profits that he allegedly smuggled into Mexico from the U.S.
Guzman has pleaded not guilty. "Guzman faces a sentence of mandatory life imprisonment, if convicted of the continuing criminal enterprise charge, and a maximum sentence of life on the remaining charges," the Department of Justice said.
His next hearing was set for May 10.
Guzman has twice escaped from prison in Mexico. The most recent escape was in 2015; he was recaptured in January 2016. He was extradited to the U.S. in January 2017.
Last month, Robert Capers, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, called Guzman's extradition a "milestone," saying that federal prosecutors from around the U.S. spent well over a decade investigating the suspect's alleged criminal activities.
Guzman led a "life of crime, violence, death and destruction" and continued to grow his empire during the times he has been in prison, Capers said at a press conference.
Guzman will face charges in six indictments from around the U.S., the Justice Department said.