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Former Top Lieutenant Details Cartel Boss’s Downfall – Rolling Stone

El Chapo Trial Begins In NY

In two days of questioning by the prosecution, Miguel Ángel Martínez Martínez described how Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán went from a toddler in abject poverty, to an underling within the Guadalajara Cartel — ran by “El Padrino” Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo — to the boss of the Sinaloa Cartel. His testimony described an formidable man who began with little however a knack for smuggling, and ended up ferrying hundreds of thousands of dollars in money in his 4 personal jets every months by arising with more and more ingenious strategies for transporting medicine.

However Martínez additionally catalogued El Chapo’s missteps, together with a disastrous warfare with the rival Tijuana Cartel, run by his erstwhile allies the Arellano Félix brothers, which almost put Guzmán out of fee for good.

In a trial that may doubtless function many blockbuster witnesses, Martínez stands out for his closeness to El Chapo throughout Guzmán’s rise to energy. Based on his testimony up to now, he was there at numerous early moments when Guzmán and his prime assistants have been revolutionizing cocaine smuggling by means of using tunnels, planes and trains to ferry Colombian cocaine to its ravenous North American clients.

Martínez, who has been within the witness safety program since his launch from jail in 2007, appeared in courtroom Monday beneath safety that was strict even for this intensely locked-down trial. Whereas he confirmed his face in open courtroom, courtroom sketch artists have been barred from rendering his likeness.


Martínez was born within the central Mexican city of Celaya, within the state of Guanajuato. He lived for a time in america, the place he educated to be a pilot, instantly parlaying that talent right into a job smuggling electronics into Mexico. As he informed jurors on Monday, his information of clandestine touchdown strips hidden within the deserts of northern Mexico introduced him into the orbit of drug smugglers, and when a contact advised him to go to Mexico Metropolis for a gathering, he went. There, he met Guzmán and commenced an extended, loyal and profitable relationship with the longer term cartel boss, who on the time was beginning to construct out his personal group underneath the umbrella of the Guadalajara Cartel.

After an initially bumpy begin, Martínez started serving to El Chapo nook the American marketplace for Colombian coke. El Chapo proved himself to be a talented smuggler, shifting cocaine from its arrival level in Mexico as much as Los Angeles in simply 24 hours, incomes him the nickname “El Rapido,” Martínez informed jurors.

Beginnning in 1987, his main route of shifting the medicine throughout the border was by means of a tunnel between Agua Prieta in northern Mexico, and Douglas, Arizona, simply throughout the border.

In a constructing on the Mexico aspect, the tunnel was hidden by a flooring that might be lifted by a hydraulic system, and was additional obscured by a billiards desk. By way of that lure door, El Chapo’s group moved between 25 and 30 tons of cocaine per yr from 1987 till 1990, when a careless mistake by one among his lieutenants introduced it to an abrupt halt, Martínez stated.

Someday within the spring of 1990, cartel honcho Francisco Camarena left the hydraulic flooring and the pool desk aloft, which caught the attention of a passing Mexican police officer. An ensuing investigation unearthed the tunnel. Guzmán was not happy.

“He was very worried and upset,” Martínez advised the courtroom.

The cartel was caught with “six or seven” tons of cocaine and no dependable strategy to get it north, Martínez stated. They put it on vans and shipped it to Nogales, one other city in northern Mexico, however the delay in getting it throughout the border turned “El Rapido” into “El Lento,” or the sluggish one, Martínez stated.

“That’s when we came up with the peppers,” Martínez informed jurors.

Evidence photos of pepper can used during El Chapo trial, Nov. 2018.

Proof pictures of pepper can used throughout El Chapo trial.

Martínez, Guzmán, and different associates zeroed in on an concept to smuggle cocaine in jalapeño cans. The preliminary plan was to purchase a cannery, however the group determined as an alternative simply to clone the labels and packaging of a model of chili peppers by the identify of “La Comadre,” or Midwife, since that firm already had the FDA approvals essential for importation.

The gang purchased some used equipment within the U.S., Martínez stated, and earlier than lengthy that they had a seamless operation shoving kilos of coke into every can and shifting it north by truck. Over the subsequent three years, it turned as environment friendly because the Agua Prieta tunnel had been, with 25 to 30 tons of cocaine being shipped this manner annually, in accordance with Martínez.

Because the operation continued, El Chapo constructed up his empire. He acquired 4 jets, and at the very least 100 on-call hitmen, touring in all places in Mexico with an entourage of 25 pistoleros and jetting across the globe underneath an assumed identify. He travelled to Asia to attempt to dealer a heroin connection, and to Switzerland to obtain a mobile remedy to “keep young,” based on his former lieutenant.

“He had houses at every beach,” Martínez stated. “He had ranches in every single state.”

Guzmán commanded a fleet of Learjets, which within the early 1990s have been flying every month to Tijuana to select up money, carrying $eight million to $10 million apiece again to Mexico Metropolis, the place Martínez saved it in stash homes earlier than carrying it to banks in overstuffed Samsonite briefcases. Financial institution staff sometimes requested questions concerning the supply, however Martínez had a canopy.

“I said I was exporting tomatoes,” Martínez advised jurors.

As for the money that was too plentiful to be deposited? Guzmán had an architect on employees who, along with planning cross-border tunnels, labored up a community of hydraulic compartments in protected homes throughout Mexico, the place the cartel hid money in compartments submerged in water or tucked beneath mattress frames, Martínez advised jurors.

Because the cartel grew, so did its bills, and by the early 1990s, Chapo was shelling out as much as $10 million a month to pay for his small military of sicarios, operational bills and to help his rising household, which had grown to incorporate 4 wives, numerous girlfriends, and a brood of youngsters, Martínez stated. He stored a ranch in Guadalajara with swimming pools, tennis courts, and a zoo stocked with lions, tigers and panthers, that guests might traverse in a miniature practice. He had a yacht named “Chapito.”

El Chapo had a beneficiant streak. He gave out diamond-encrusted rolexes to his underlings, and annually he requested Martínez to dole out luxurious automobiles to his staff the best way some bosses give out present playing cards. In trade for coordinating a dizzying array of logistics for the boss, Martínez pulled in one million dollars a yr, he stated.

These have been the great years, consuming rivers of whiskey, beer and cognac, touring to Europe for trip, and playing in Macau.

“It was the best time in the world,” he informed jurors. “We helped form the cocaine boom.”


However whilst Chapo was turning into what prosecutors describe as probably the most profitable drug traffickers on earth, he was getting slowed down in what Martínez described as a hyper-violent and finally counterproductive warfare with the Arellano Félix brothers, former allies who ran the Tijuana Cartel.

What started as a rivalry for smuggling routes turned bloody within the late 1980s, when the Arellano Félix brothers allegedly murdered a number of shut pals and associates of Guzmán, and butchered the household of one other, based on Martínez.

In response, Guzmán sought and acquired permission from Juan José Esparragoza Moreno, a veritable elder statesman of cartel land, to retaliate towards the Arellano brothers. Over the following years, he sank increasingly more assets into the warfare, which claimed dozens of lives and introduced undesirable consideration to each organizations, Martínez stated.

“The war completely harmed our interests,” stated Martínez, who claimed to have by no means had a direct hand within the violence. “When they started with that war, everybody became famous.”

The start of the top got here in November of 1992, when El Chapo discovered from the son of an affiliate that the Arellano Félix brothers have been partying at Discoteca Christine, a complicated nightclub in Puerto Vallarta. Guzmán instantly contacted Martínez and had him organize a flight to close by Guadalajara, the place he rounded up about two dozen sicarios, bundled them right into a truck, and drove to Puerto Vallarta.

Evidence photo of Christine Disco during El Chapo trial, Nov. 2018.

Proof photograph of Christine Disco throughout El Chapo trial, Nov. 2018.

It was a crucial blunder. The Arellano Félix brothers received phrase that Guzmán and his gunmen have been coming, they usually have been ready. When the truck arrived on the disco, the Arellano boys and their henchmen opened hearth, leading to a massacre that claimed the lives of a number of of Guzmán’s males, together with a number of bystanders. In complete, the gunfight left six lifeless and left the dueling organizations additional entrenched in warfare, Martínez stated.

The flashpoint that solidified Guzmán’s infamy was a shootout on the Guadalajara airport on Might 23rd, 1993, which claimed the lifetime of the beloved Cardinal Juan Jesús Posada Ocampo.

Evidence photo of a plane during El Chapo trial, Nov. 2018.

Proof photograph of a aircraft throughout El Chapo trial, Nov. 2018.

In a dramatic back-and-forth with the prosecution, Martínez advised the courtroom how Tijuana gunmen laid in await El Chapo, and opened hearth on him as his automotive pulled up. One in every of Guzmán’s bodyguards, a person generally known as “El Tigre” helped the boss out of his automotive and bumped into the terminal with him, holding a suitcase full of $600,000 in money, Martínez stated. The pair dashed onto a baggage belt and ran throughout the tarmac to an area freeway on the opposite aspect of the airport, Martínez stated.

The cardinal wasn’t so fortunate. Posada was touring in a white Grand Marquis, just like a automotive Guzmán had just lately purchased for one in every of his wives, and within the confusion, he was fatally gunned down.

Within the wake of the Guadalajara airport shootout, the relative anonymity Guzmán had loved was over, Martínez stated.

“They were showing his picture on the news every five or 10 minutes,” he stated

Guzmán was determined. With the complete nation on the lookout for him, and his political capital largely spent, he wanted Martínez to show a few of the cocaine that they had available into money, Martínez informed jurors.

Usually, when a truck loaded with chili-can coke headed for the border in Tijuana, it might carry between 2,000 and three,200 kilos of cocaine, combined in with actual peppers to throw off anybody who may give the truck a second look. However all of this dangerous information made Guzmán “desperate,” in accordance with Martínez, and that made him take dangers. When a brand new cargo of greater than 10 tons of cocaine got here in from Colombia, a frantic Chapo demanded that Martínez load it down with two shipments in a single. Martínez stated he informed his boss it was a nasty concept, however went forward and tossed seven tons of cocaine unto one truck.

The coke didn’t make it. Mexican police stopped the truck in Tecate, a city close to Tijuana, and seized the entire load — and with it, a rigorously constructed technique of smuggling cocaine throughout the border, Martínez stated. “Fuck it, compadre, that route is finished,” Guzmán advised Martínez.


Following El Chapo’s arrest in June of 1993, Martinez stated he continued to work with the cartel for about 5 extra years, coordinating funds to Guzmán’s household and operating day-to-day smuggling operations for an affiliate of Guzmán who remained free. In 1998, Martinez was lastly arrested by Mexican police, and spent a harrowing three years in Mexican prisons, the place he survived 4 assassination makes an attempt, which he suspected got here from the cartel. Regardless of the makes an attempt on his life, he stated he resisted makes an attempt by the USA to extradite him.

“I fought extradition like a cat with its belly up,” he stated.

Lastly, in 2001, MArtinez was extradited to the USA, the place, in change for his full cooperation, he was sentenced to 18 years in jail, which a decide later decreased to only six years. Martinez was launched from jail in 2007, and has been dwelling in witness safety ever since, had has testified a number of occasions in trials and grand juries.

When he acquired a subpoena to testify towards El Chapo, nevertheless, he stated he was not completely happy to drop a dime on his former boss.

“When I was fighting my extradition, I never mentioned him,” he stated. “I never failed him, I never stole from him, I never betrayed him. I watched over his family. And the only thing I ever received from him was four attempted attacks against me without saying anything.”

By the point courtroom broke for lunch Wednesday, prosecutor Michael Robotti was nonetheless questioning Martinez concerning the phrases of his cooperation settlement with the federal government, with cross-examination set to start out Wednesday afternoon.

In its opening arguments, the protection group highlighted what it described because the untrustworthy nature of the federal government’s witnesses, and is more likely to query Martinez about his claims to have by no means taken half in violence, and to hone in on his admitted drug use in the course of the years about which he has testified.