Prison authorities are so afraid El Chapo could receive secret codes behind bars that they won’t even let him have a Bible.
The infamous drug lord, whose real name is Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera, is locked up in a highest-security isolation cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, awaiting trial for for a litany of charges related to drug trafficking.
“It’s a bible that came from Amazon,” Balarezo said in Spanish during a press conference Wednesday. “Same as the dictionary” El Chapo also hasn’t received, Balarezo added.
Conditions in the so-called “10 South” isolation wing of the Manhattan federal jail have been described as “worse than Guantanamo” by inmates who’ve been in both. And the defense team’s latest grievances about El Chapo’s inability to get a Bible and English-Spanish dictionary to understand legal paperwork underscore the security measures placed on the man who escaped from maximum-security Mexican prisons twice. The books are being screened for codes, Balarezo said.
Correspondence from his family is also out of the question.
“His family has mailed him letters regularly. He has received not one,” Balarezo said. “It’s just another way to affect Mr. Guzman.”
El Chapo still hasn’t been able to see his wife, and his sister’s visa was revoked after she visited him several months ago, said Balarezo, who was retained by Chapo after a lengthy discussion of whether the kingpin could use his ill-gotten millions to pay lawyers’ fees. Chapo has seen his two young daughters, who wore gold dresses to court on Wednesday and spent the morning playing peekaboo with former paralegals, just twice.
Earlier Wednesday morning, Balarezo reaffirmed in court the defense team’s intention to have a psychologist evaluate El Chapo, who lawyers say has been negatively affected by a year in near-constant solitude.
The kingpin’s memory and other faculties are failing, Balarezo claimed, which may render him unable to assist in his own defense.
In filings to the court, prosecutors said they’d also complied with all the requirements ordered by the court to El Chapo’s lawyer meeting place. Chapo’s lawyers had previously complained that the hyper-secure conditions created for him made it virtually impossible for them to get any work done with him.
At the hearing Wednesday, Judge Brian M. Cogan had El Chapo waive a potential conflict of interest with Balarezo because he had previously represented a co-defendant in the initial charging of the case. (That man was not named in court but is presumed to be Alfredo Beltran Leyva, another drug kingpin who was sentenced to life in prison in a separate case this April.) Balarezo took over El Chapo’s case from federal public defenders in September.
But now, Balarezo says he worries prosecutors’ stonewalling on certain types of evidence will inhibit his ability to prepare for trial, scheduled to begin mid-April 2018.
On Wednesday, prosecutors laid out a tentative schedule for presenting evidence to the defense team, which included some potential testimony that would be withheld until a month or two before trial, and other testimony, from cooperating witnesses, that would Balarezo would only be notified about two weeks before they take the stand. (The schedule is not atypical, but the trial in this voluminous case is projected to take months.)
The evidence presented so far is of little use, Balarezo told the court, as he doesn’t plan to dispute the fact that seizures of drug shipments and the like occurred.
“The issue is, what does Mr. Guzman have to do with those seizures? And that’s going to be [in the final materials produced],” he said.