Welcome to New York, El Chapo — you’re going to stay a while.
A half-dozen federal agents carrying assault weapons flanked the entrance to the Brooklyn Federal courthouse Friday as notorious 59-year-old drug czar and escape artist Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman was arraigned on a laundry list of crimes as the head of the Sinaloa cartel.
Dozens of NYPD cops joined the agents, forming a protective ring around the Cadman Plaza West courthouse.
“We can assure you there will not be any tunnel being built from his bathroom,” Angel Melendez of the Homeland Security Department's Immigration Customs Enforcement said, referring to Guzman’s 2015 escape from Mexican prison.
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“This is a good day in American justice.”
Court employees were stunned by the added protection.
“I can’t remember the last time we had security like this,” said one federal court officer, who did not want to be identified by name.
Guzman spent months on the run after escaping from a high-security prison in Mexico in 2015.
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Dressed in a navy blue prison smock, his fingers interlocked behind his back and surrounded by five burly U.S. Marshals, the billionaire drug lord pleaded not guilty to the 17-count indictment.
The charges included drug trafficking, money laundering and his involvement in 12 murder conspiracies.
“I didn’t know until now,” Guzman said about the charges, speaking through a translator, when asked if he understood what he was accused of.
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Neither of his attorneys made a request for bail.
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A convoy of NYPD and other law enforcement vehicles drove Guzman from Brooklyn federal court to the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he is being held until his next court date.
By pumping more than 200 tons of cocaine and methamphetamines into the U.S., Guzman fueled the drug epidemics of the 1980s and 1990s that “caused the misery of millions of American families,” U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said.
“He’s not a do-gooder or a Robin Hood who made great escapes,” added Capers. “He’s destructive... murderous. He was known for carrying around a gold-plated AK-47. In short, he's known for a life of crime, violence and destruction. That’s who El Chapo Guzman is.”
Melendez called Guzman the “most notorious criminal of all time.”
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“(Thursday) night I was on the tarmac as he came off the plane,” Melendez said. “You look into his eyes, you see surprise, you see shock and to a certain extent you see fear. He's about to face American justice.”
Guzman’s attorneys filed a complaint early Friday with authorities that his due process rights were violated in the extradition.
“I haven't seen any evidence that indicates to me that Mr. Guzman has done anything wrong,” attorney Michael Schneider said. “We look forward to addressing these allegations in the courtroom through the rules of law that will include whether Mr. Guzman was extradited appropriately to this district."
The notorious Sinaloa cartel head had been fighting his extradition for more than a year.
In the upcoming trial, federal prosecutors plan to outline how Guzman ordered the torture and deaths of more than a dozen people “to maintain an iron-fisted grip on the drug trade across the U.S.-Mexico border that invaded our community and others across the country,” Capers said.
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