Drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman will be examined by a psychologist next week after his lawyer argued the conditions of his confinement in New York have taken a toll on his memory and mental state.
US District Judge Brian Cogan in Brooklyn granted permission Wednesday for Guzman to be evaluated following a defense motion alleging that solitary confinement in a cold, small cell at a federal lockup in Manhattan had the drug lord forgetting names and places and suffering from hallucinations, paranoia and depression.
“I’m not alleging that he’s not competent” to stand trial, Guzman’s new attorney, Eduardo Balarezo, told reporters after a pretrial hearing.
“I’m alleging that the conditions that he’s been under for the last nine months or so are affecting his memory, affecting his ability to relay information that I need as his lawyer to defend him.”
Guzman, who is commonly known by his nickname “El Chapo,” which loosely translates as “shorty,” was extradited to the United States from Mexico in January and immediately brought to the federal courthouse in Brooklyn for his arraignment on a 17-count indictment.
His trial in Brooklyn is set to begin in April 2018.
The 60-year-old defendant, dressed in a dark blue prison uniform, entered the courtroom for Wednesday’s brief hearing smiling and waving at his former beauty queen wife, Emma Coronel, and their six-year-old twin daughters. He followed the proceedings through an interpreter.
Federal prosecutors have turned over 90,000 pages of discovery — most detailing drug shipments and seizures — but Balarezo said he took issue with government plans to wait until two weeks before trial to share the testimony of alleged collaborators.
“Every one of them is going to be here trying to reduce their sentence,” the attorney said outside court.
The head of the Sinaloa Cartel, Guzman is named in a sweeping 17-count indictment alleging that from 1989 to 2014 he led a continuing criminal enterprise responsible for importing and distributing massive amounts of narcotics and conspiring to murder rivals who posed a threat, according to federal prosecutors.
Guzman is also charged with firearm violations related to drug trafficking and money laundering connected to the smuggling from the United States to Mexico of more than $14 billion in cash from narcotics sales.
Guzman has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry a minimum sentence of life in prison. Federal prosecutors also intend to seek a $14 billion criminal forfeiture order against him.
Years as a fugitive
Guzman has been confined to a solitary windowless cell, removed from the general population in a facility that is part of the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Before hiring Balarezo, Guzman last summer retained attorney Jeffrey Lichtman, who represented John Gotti Jr. in a 2005 federal trial which ended with the dismissal of murder conspiracy charges.
Prior to Lichtman, the man accused of running one of the world’s largest drug trafficking organizations was represented by court-appointed public defenders.
After more than a dozen years on the run after escaping from prison in 2001 — allegedly by hiding in a laundry cart — Guzman was again arrested in 2014.
However, a year later he escaped through a hole in his cell block that led to a tunnel nearly a mile long. In 2016 Mexican security forces rearrested Guzman in Sinaloa.
Mexican drug cartels take in between $19 and $29 billion annually from US drug sales, and a 2015 Congressional Research Service report estimates at least 80,000 people have been killed due to organized-crime-related incidents since 2006.