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'El Chapo' trial witness talks about alleged drug lord's problems and perks from the stand

Guzmán is charged with using intimidation and violence to run a criminal enterprise that trafficked $14 billion into the U.S. over a quarter-century.

Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera is shown in

Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera is shown in Mexico City Jan. 8, 2016. Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Alfredo Estrella

An informant at Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera’s Brooklyn federal court trial Tuesday gave jurors a tour of the alleged drug lord’s problems and perks — from health issues for workers at a smuggling factory to his private zoo, Swiss cell injections and private reflections on the bloodshed he spawned.

Miguel Martínez Martínez, a top Guzmán aide from 1986 until 1998, portrayed the then-rising leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel as a world traveler who gave his workers pricey gifts from a diamond studded Rolex to Thunderbirds, but relied on cloned phones and dozens of private wiretaps to keep himself safe and his affairs in order.

“He wanted to know what his people are thinking about him and what his enemies are thinking about him,” Martínez told jurors. “His enemies, his friends, his competitors, anyone he wanted to.”

“Girlfriends?” prosecutor Michael Robotti asked.

“Also,” Martínez answered.

Guzmán, 58, who twice escaped Mexican prisons, was extradited last year and is charged with using intimidation and violence to run a criminal enterprise that trafficked $14 billion into the United States over a quarter century. The trial, in its third week, is expected to last four months.

Martínez, the second former member to provide an inside look at the Sinaloa Cartel’s violent business as a cooperating government witness, began his second day on the stand by describing Guzmán's schemes to use trains, trucks with false bottoms and tunnels to smuggle drugs, and gave new details of how he sneaked “25 to 30 tons” of cocaine a year into the United States in chili pepper cans.

Until Mexican police uncovered it in 1993, he testified, Guzmán’s organization used “clones” of the cans and boxes of a real chili pepper company — La Comadre, with a pigtailed little girl as the logo — to avoid FDA scrutiny, but he said packing 600 to 700 cans a day with kilo bricks was hard on employees.

“They got intoxicated because whenever you would push the kilo into the can, it would release cocaine into the air,” he said.

The scheme also produced complaints from Colombian customers, who said the compression of kilo bricks was “causing the cocaine to lose its purity and reactivity,” Martínez said — forcing a production shift to half-kilo bricks surrounded by sand to reproduce the weight and feel of real peppers without compromising quality.

The headaches, however, were apparently worth it.

Guzmán owned a fleet of four private jets, traveling with an “entourage” around Mexico and the world, Martínez said, while storing wads of cash in private residences, depositing $10 million to $12 million a month in banks, paying Colombian partners, accountants, a staff to monitor his wiretaps, and bodyguards, and keeping four or five of his “señoras” and their families happy.

He said Guzmán bought ranches in every state and on every beach in Mexico, including a $10 million estate in Acapulco where he docked his yacht Chapito, and a home in Guadalajara where a “little train” took visitors around a private zoo featuring lions, tigers, panthers and deer.

He also traveled the world, Martínez testified, from Macau, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Japan to every country in Europe, including Switzerland, where he paid for treatments at a clinic “where they put some cells in you so you keep young.”

The price was bloodshed.

Martínez recalled the outbreak of a turf war with a rival cartel in Tijuana that followed the murder of two Guzmán friends. On the way to seek consent to start a war from an imprisoned senior leader known as "El Azul," he said, Guzmán listened intently to a song — a so-called narcocorrido — eulogizing one of his slain friends.

“He was crying,” Martínez testified.

At the so-called prison — where guards had been bribed, and El Azul treated Guzmán to live music and a dinner menu of lobster, sirloin and pheasant — permission was granted. Afterward, Martínez said he witnessed Guzmán order multiple murders, and at one point wondered why all the killing was needed.

“Either your mom’s going to cry, or their mom’s going to cry,” Guzmán responded.

In a sidelight to the trial on Tuesday, prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan to sanction an unidentified defense counsel in a heavily blacked-out motion for allegedly facilitating banned cellphone contact between Guzmán and his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro.

The judge put the issue off until Friday, and a defense lawyer called the government’s claim “pure speculation.”

Martínez will resume his testimony on Wednesday.

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