New York, United States, Nov 28 – Rejuvenation treatments at Swiss clinics, a beachfront mansion in Acapulco and a private zoo of lions: the US trial of drug baron Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was given an extraordinary glimpse Tuesday into his life of excess.
At the height of his power as one of the most notorious criminals in the world and most prolific drug traffickers on the planet, Guzman reputedly profited to the max from his ill-gotten gains.
But behind the glitter and gold, he was paranoid to the core, splurging $10 to $12 million a month on bribes to protect himself from arrest, paying off his enemies and wiretapping his multiple girlfriends.
That was the picture painted Tuesday by one of his former associates, Miguel Angel “El Gordo” Martinez, a former pilot and Sinaloa cartel bigwig in Mexico City who is today part of the US witness protection program.
In the early 1990s, smuggling Colombian cocaine into the United States — Guzman’s lifeblood — was “the best business in the world,” Martinez told the American jury in the Brooklyn federal court.
Guzman’s profits were jetted in by the plane load to the tune of $30 million a month, delivered by private jet from the Mexican border town of Tijuana to Mexico City for successfully delivered US drug shipments.
It was a heady lifestyle and mind-boggling pay packet for a man born into poverty, who turned to drug trafficking as a teenager.
Throughout Tuesday’s testimony, a suited and booted Guzman listened intently in court to the turncoat, never once taking his eyes off Martinez on what was the second day of the third week of his trial.
– Four private jets –
“In the ’90s he had four jets, houses on all the beaches, ranches in all (Mexico’s) states,” Martinez testified. The Acapulco property alone cost $10 million, he estimated.
“We traveled all over the world… to Brazil, Argentina, Aruba, throughout Europe, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Peru, Cuba, Colombia, Panama,” he said.
If some were work trips, many others were for pleasure, such as gambling sprees in Macau.
They flew to Thailand, he testified, with the goal of buying heroin for $10,000 a kilo, shipping it through Mexico and onto the United States where it could be re-sold for a whopping $130,000 a kilo.
But the plot collapsed, he alleged, when Thai drug traffickers and the heroin pointman in New York, Raul Santana, were arrested.
Even at 61, Martinez pointed out, Guzman still has a full head of hair and no white streaks — and referenced past trips to Swiss clinics “where they put cells in you to make you younger,” Martinez explained.
He claimed that Guzman kept tigers, lions, panthers and deer in a zoo at his home in Guadalajara, on an estate so vast with swimming pools and tennis courts that the defendant would get around by a little train.
But if he spent lavishly on bribing police, and paying off his “four or five” fancy women, Guzman was generous when it came to gifts.
Martinez claimed to have earned $3 million in just a few years of working for Guzman and said the defendant bought him a Rolex encrusted with diamonds.
– Tomato man –
He was once tasked with buying more than 50 expensive cars — Buicks, Cougars and Thunderbirds — worth $35,000 each — to doll out to Sinaloa cartel workers at Christmas time.
He claimed Guzman stashed up to $20 million in cash in secret compartments designed by architects at homes purposely bought just to hide money.
Martinez claimed he would ferry millions in Samsonite suitcases to Mexico City banks where he would exchange dollars for local currency without hiccup after Guzman bribed bank employees.
Whenever Guzman was asked if he was laundering money, Martinez said that the drug baron would simply maintain that he was exporting tomatoes.
Martinez also spoke of his own cocaine addiction, which saw him snort up to four grams a day at the height of his obsession.
In 1991 or 1992 his nose had to be repaired but he maintained that he has been clean for the last 20 years ago.
Guzman’s beauty queen wife and the 29-year-old mother of his twin daughters, Emma Coronel, sat in court listening with her head, at times, bowed.
Her use of a banned cell phone, borrowed from a defense lawyer in the court cafeteria last week, on Tuesday briefly held up proceedings.