El Chapo: Drug lord immediately taken to 'Alcatraz' supermax jail by authorities determined to prevent him breaking out again

Authorities fear notorious drug lord will escape prison for third time after breaking out with specially-adapted motorcycle through mile-long tunnel 

Emma Snaith
Friday 19 July 2019 21:27 BST
El Chapo tearful as he lands in US

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the notorious Mexican drug lord found guilty of running a murderous criminal enterprise, has been taken to a top security jail after being sentenced to life plus 30 years in prison.

A helicopter whisked the drug kingpin, who has twice escaped from Mexican prisons, to a supermax jail in Colorado just hours after his sentencing.

El Chapo joins the “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and Terry Nichols from the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing who are also housed in the USP Florence Admax.

Typically, there is a gap between sentencing and allocation of prison place for guilty defendants. However, in light of Guzman’s history of jailbreaks, he was immediately taken to the high-security facility known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies”.

The 62-year-old drug lord had been protected in Mexico by an army of gangsters who were part of the notorious Sinaloa cartel he founded in 1989.

Under Guzman, the Sinaloa cartel smuggled hundreds of thousands of tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana to the US.

It picked up where Colombia’s Pablo Escobar left off in dominating international narcotics trafficking, carrying out acts of intimidation, bribery, torture or execution as a matter of course.

Guzman was first arrested in Guatemala in 1993, extradited to Mexico and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

While inside, he bribed guards to ensure favourable conditions and was able to dispatch orders to his brother who was running the Sinaloa cartel in his absence.

The crime boss even held lavish Christmas parties with his entire family in his cell and enjoyed conjugal visits with his mistress.

In January 2001, Guzman escaped from the maximum-security Puente Grande prison in Jalisco, reportedly in a laundry basket.

But according to Anabel Hernandez, one of Mexico’s leading writers on the mafia, he escaped in a police uniform with a police escort.

Guzman evaded capture for 13 years despite a manhunt instigated by US and Mexican authorities bringing together the FBI, CIA, DEA and the Mexican army.

The drug kingpin’s second prison escape came after he was arrested at the Pacific beach resort of Mazatlan in Mexico in February 2014.

Enrique Pena Nieto, the president of Mexico at the time, refused to transfer him to US custody, saying: “It would be unforgivable for the government not to take the precautions to ensure that what happened last time would not be repeated.”

But in July 2015, he escaped again through a tunnel running 30ft beneath the Toluca prison showers to a house under construction a mile away.

It was widely reported at the time that Guzman used a specially-adapted motorcycle mounted on a rail to ride through the tunnel, which was also equipped with lighting and ventilation.

But during El Chapo’s trial, it emerged that the motorcycle was driven by his wife’s brother and the vehicle was towed by a pulley system.

The drug lord was finally rearrested in January 2016 after a shoot-out in the Mexican city of Los Mochis.

He was then extradited to the US last January where he pleaded “not guilty” to a 17-count indictment.

El Chapo was subject to extreme security measures in an effort to prevent a repeat of his notorious jailbreaks in Mexico.

Inside El Chapo's escape tunnel

He was put in solitary confinement in a high-security wing of the Manhattan jail that has housed terrorists and mobsters.

Guzman has lodged frequent complaints about the conditions of his detention in the US, describing it as “torture”.

“I drink unsanitary water, no air or sunlight, and the air pumped in makes my ears and throat hurt,” he said at his sentencing. “This has been psychological, emotional and mental torture 24 hours a day.”

Additional reporting by AP

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