El Chapo Trial: Defense Paints Government Case As ‘Fantasy’

By WCBS Newsradio 880

NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) — Defense attorneys for Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman told a jury on Thursday that the prosecution relied on a parade of cooperating witnesses who “lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs and kill people.”

With his voice rising and falling, defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman stalked in front of the jurors as if he were on stage, WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported. His goal was to shred the credibility of the government's witnesses.

In an impassioned closing argument, he said prosecutors failed to address a “600-pound gorilla” of reasonable doubt in their bid to convict one of the world’s most notorious drug traffickers.

He also told the jury the witnesses lied on the stand and they’ve lied their whole lives.

“If you don't believe the cooperators, then you can't convict Mr. Guzman,” Lichtman told the jury.  

However, the prosecution's case relies on more than just witness. Over the course of the 11 week trial, members of the jury heard about drug dealing, murder and multiple prison escapes.

The government claims Guzman made billions trafficking drugs into the United States.

Though, Lichtman scoffed at the notion that Guzman amassed a multimillion-dollar wealth over the course of three decades, calling it "a fantasy." He said the government had failed to produce evidence of ill-gotten gains beyond the word of the cooperating witnesses.

Prosecutors “expect you to ignore all the problems in their case,” Lichtman said. “They expect you to ignore the dishonesty of their witnesses.”

Lichtman singled out an allegation by a cooperator that Guzman had paid a $100 million bribe to a Mexican president to call off a manhunt. He argued that made no sense since authorities still arrested his client and sent him to the U.S. in 2017 to face drug-trafficking charges.

Guzman “pays the bribe and gets hunted down like an animal,” he said. “Is that logical?”

The lawyer said it would make more sense that the bribe was paid by Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, since he’s never been arrested. The defense has sought to portray Zambada as the true leader of the cartel.

The bribe allegation was made by Alex Cifuentes, a Colombian trafficker who admitted on cross-examination that he had a history of lying to everyone around him, except when it came to his testimony about Guzman, Lichtman said.

Referring to another cooperating witness, Cifuentes’ brother, Lichtman asked jurors whether they would be comfortable buying a used car “from a Cifuentes” or entrusting their child to be babysat by one of the brothers.

The car would break down before it left the lot, Lichtman argued, while “the kid would be sold for a kilo of cocaine.”

Guzman faces life in prison if convicted of drug and murder conspiracy charges.

(© 2019 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)