Guzmán's lawyer before the federal court in New York, Eduardo Balarezo, admits in an interview that this is a difficult mission because the defendant - for him "another client who needs help" - faces charges that could lead to a sentence of life imprisonment. In addition, he affirms, the US government and the prosecution are allocating many resources and maneuvering in secret for the judge to take measures against Guzmán. However, he says he is prepared to face the protected witnesses who will testify against him, among whom may be El Vicentillo, La Barbie, El Lic or El Minilic.
Washington.- Eduardo Balarezo refuses to be labeled as a narco-attorney and, although he defends one of the most recognized traffickers in the world, Joaquín Guzmán Loera says in an interview: "I consider Joaquín a client, not El Chapo, the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, or as a great drug trafficker as the prosecution ", that is to say, the Department of Justice of the United States.
However, he admits that Guzmán "has a very high profile in the media, a profile in the legal business that is very high and I know he comes with a lot of baggage; It's different and a little harder. "
Before assuming the legal defense of Guzmán Loera in New York, Balarezo had already represented in the federal court of the District of Columbia two outstanding figures of Mexican drug trafficking; Alfredo Beltrán Leyva El Mochomo and Zhenli Ye Gon. He lost those two cases. Guzmán Loera is accused in the United States of drug trafficking, money laundering, and homicide, among other crimes for which he could be sentenced to life imprisonment.
Clients of Balarezo knew the legal representatives of the alleged ringleader of one of the factions of the Sinaloa Cartel. To this, says the litigant, "I met him in February of 2017, a month after he was extradited to the United States."
Then they began their formal contacts with Guzmán's wife and sister, Ema Coronel Aispuro and Bernarda, respectively. "They asked me to visit him in New York, I went and the relationship began," he says.
- With whom of the family of Guzmán Loera defined the cost of their fees to defend the Chapo? -he asks.
-Those topics are confidential; the agreement was made with the client, with Joaquín.
-Have you been paid?
-I never enter the case without having received something and I have said many times that I received a part of the payment, not everything.
Avoiding revealing the amount he set in the contract to defend whom the United States government labels as the most powerful and dangerous drug trafficker on the planet, Balarezo only says that he has received "25%" of his fees. Nor does it reveal who directly gives you your money. "I can say it's not Ema, but I can not say who pays me," he says.
He laughs when he adds that the US government spreads myths about his client, such as the fact that the Treasury Department wants to confiscate 14 billion dollars. "They're never going to get them, they've never taken a dime that I know of. But it is something for the circus that has become this case, because it is an incredible number. People will see the figure and think that this man is a millionaire. It's ridiculous, "he says.
Because it is a foreign criminal defined as "most significant drug trafficker" in terms of US law, any economic aspect of the Chapo is subject to the jurisdiction of the Office for the Control of Foreign Assets (OFAC, for its acronym in English) of the Treasury Department.
Every last cent handled by or managed by Guzmán is subject to confiscation by the US authorities if it moves in their territory; for that reason Balarezo, before defending his client, obtained a license from the OFAC and must render accounts to him every three months on his emoluments.
"When I go to the bank I have to make my tax returns and the prosecutors who handle the case have access to all this. Everything I have done in relation to the payments in this case is clear and correct, "he says.
The "myths" of the prosecution
After several misunderstandings between Guzman's defense and the Justice Department, on Monday, November 5, the trial led by federal judge Brian Cogan will begin.
Through his lawyer, El Chapo has complained of inhumane treatment because they have him in a small cell, guarded 24 hours a day and separated from the rest of the inmates of the Manhattan federal prison, which according to him already affected his health.
His supporter visits him personally every week, but the rest of the days he serves Chapo, for four or five hours, is a team that Balarezo hired at the special office that opened in New York to address this issue. In this way, he says, "I have daily communication with him through my assistants".
- Guzmán is aware of the case and understands it?
-He understands the case clearly. We have complained that he is suffering psychologically, but we are not saying that he is incompetent. The conditions in which they have it are affecting him a lot; the memory is failing him in the sense that sometimes he does not remember certain things anymore or he asks us or says the same things several times. In the year and peak I know him I have noticed that his mental ability has declined. He is not crazy, he is not incompetent, he is not incoherent; He has knowledge of what is happening and what we face.
The government of the United States argues that Guzmán Loera's conditions of imprisonment correspond to a criminal categorized as highly dangerous. Your advocate ensures that your client knows:
"Of course they have it in those conditions because of the leaks that have happened in Mexico. It is understood that the United States government has certain concerns for him, but we have to be realistic: he is not in jail in Mexico; he's not going to buy the guards here either. It is absolutely exaggerated as they have it.
"It's in the middle of the city of Manhattan, on the tenth floor of a jail. Nobody is going to build a tunnel in a 10-story building, nobody will take it out for a laundry cart or a helicopter. It will not happen. "
Another matter that has been kept secret is the reason that the judge prohibited the visits of Ema Coronel to her husband. According to Balarezo, the argument presented by the Department of Justice to obtain this and other measures against the accused was not even made public:
"The judge has made decisions that have greatly affected the case: that he can not see the wife, that the jury is anonymous and is protected, and now (his position before) the motion that we present to move the case from Brooklyn to Manhattan . What could be secret to affect this? I do not know, there have been 10 conversations like that, where we are at a tremendous disadvantage because we do not know what the government has told the judge to decide those things. We can not litigate or protest against them because we do not know what it is about and the judge has said that is correct. "
The federal court in New York only authorized Ema Coronel to talk on the phone with Guzmán. She tries to attend all the hearings in New York accompanied by her twin daughters, because the litigant says "the girls visit him every time they come to the hearings, they give them a visit of one hour. They can not hug him or kiss him, they see him through a window. And everything is monitored, whenever there are agents. It is a ridiculous case: he can not pass messages to third parties. One day he told the girls to say hello to the mother, who loves her, and they cut off the visit because that was a message. "
- Do you communicate with Ema Coronel?
-Several times a week. It depends on what needs to be done and what is happening.
The challenges of the trial
Representing Guzmán Loera against the government of the United States, and more in the age of the internet, social networks, narcoseries and narco-verses that are fashionable, is a path to fame and can give you a lot of money and prestige. However, Balarezo maintains that the matter is of the "highest profile", but only that.
He adds that even it is expensive: "The expenses have been great; the trips, the people and an office in New York. I already had one, but now I have one in Brooklyn just for this case. "
-This judgment can create a reputation that in the future will attract clients with a similar profile.
- That seems at first sight, because they could say: "Being a lawyer of the Chapo has to be good and I will hire him". But it is not so easy. In the case of Joaquin, many people will testify against him. Also, since I started to represent him, I have rejected three cases.
-Enough; They would have given good money. They were three people accused by the United States of drug trafficking. When they looked for me they were somewhere else and now two are here, extradited. I had to reject them because they would have caused me a conflict, since they are going to testify against him. It can not.
As for the possibility that the US government is spying on him, given the matter, he says he does not care:
"It is not something that I think and I take it as paranoid, but if they are doing it I would not be surprised. A lawyer friend of mine advised me that when I talk on the phone I never say anything that I do not want to hear in a court afterwards; I always have it in mind. I do not care much because I'm not doing anything wrong or illegal. From time to time, when talking on the phone with someone, I greet the prosecutors just in case. "
- Who else in the Guzmán Loera family talks about the case?
-With his sisters Bernarda and Armida, as well as other people who for various reasons I can not identify, relatives of him.
-Have you traveled to Mexico for those communications?
- No, it's all on the phone. I do not want to be Sean Penn.
-As a lawyer, what expectations do you have in this case?
-It's different for the character, for the amount of evidence that is expected, for the resources that the prosecution and the US government are allocating to reach a conviction of Joaquin. We are very clear that the process and the trial will be very difficult, but we do not enter with the thought that the case is lost. I can not guarantee anything to the client, only that I will do my best and that we must also take into account that a jury will decide if he is guilty or innocent.
"Twelve people, citizens of New York, will decide if the prosecution's evidence is enough to condemn Joaquin or not. What the prosecution says does not interest me. With all respect to the judge, what he has to say about my client does not interest me; I'm not saying that I'm not listening, but that I'm going to address the trial to the jury. It has to be a unanimous decision. If one or two people disagree, they can not condemn it. That's why I'll never get to that point of saying that I've lost the case. We are going to fight for Joaquin in the trial, to win; it is very possible that we will not succeed, but that's the way it is. "
-How many witnesses do you think the prosecution will present?
-I would say about 60 or 70, if not more, and probably half of them will be protected witnesses, snitches, informants, toads.
-It is said that Jesús Vicente Zambada Niebla would be a key witness of the prosecution. Is your client aware of this?
- Are you afraid of that?
- What have you said about it?
-My conversations are confidential. Vicente's thing is public; is collaborating with the authorities and we may see it in this case. My client is very aware of who he is and what he has said in this case up to this point, but we are prepared to face him.
In addition, they have been identified as possible witnesses of the Department of Justice against El Chapo to Edgar Valdez Villarreal The Barbie, Dámaso López Núñez The Licensed, his son Dámaso López Serrano The Mini Licensed, the brothers Pedro and Margarito Flores, among other notable figures of drug trafficking Mexican that are in the power of the US government.
- It will be a long trial?
-The prosecution expects it to last about four months, from November to February or perhaps until March, with four days a week of trial. I know the prosecutors, I know how they prepare their cases and that's why I think it will last until the end of March. The jury can take more time to deliberate to decide the sentence. He will not be condemned. If he is sentenced, until the end of the year maybe.
So how is it possible that Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera contracted this oaf to act as his legal counsel when El Chapo has repeatedly stated he is a poor farmer? El Chapo also denies that he has any money. At one point, El Chapo requested that the federal court appoint legal counsel for him because he could not afford to pay for an attorney on his own. Purely rhetorical question that I am not looking for an answer. Rather, I bring it up for possible discussion.
As for the conditions in the federal detention center that he continually complains about. Unlike the jails and prisons in Mexico where El Chapo had free reign of the facilities, he's unable to have his favorite food brought in from the outside. Rather, he has to eat the same slop that everyone else eats. His attorney asserts that Chapo suffers from medical and psychological disorders brought on by the conditions of his confinement. Welcome to a real prison amigo! A facility where you are not the king or queen and your name doesn't afford you any additional privileges. He can't have the services of certain ladies who could help him "relieve his stress" or provide one on one "therapy sessions" like he was accustomed to in Mexico. He's not going to be hosting any parties with live bands or "ladies" trucked into the prison to provide entertainment for his fellow prisoners or the facility guards.
The reporter's line of questioning about the government possibly eavesdropping on his telephonic conversations with El Chapo is ludicrous. It's well known that within detention facilities conversations via telephone are subject to monitoring without advanced notice. Many facilities have signs informing visitors and detainees of this very possibility. So when the oaf makes the statement that he greets the prosecutors, he is just being flippant.
The reporter managed to accomplish one thing on behalf of this defense attorney. By conducting this "interview" he managed to give the attorney free publicity and perhaps another billable hour.