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Mexican cops helped Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's drug operation: Witness

Testifying for the government, convicted trafficker Juan Carlos Ramirez-Abadia says he worked closely with Guzman to ship cocaine from Columbia to Mexico and then the U.S.

Alleged drug kingpin Joaquin

Alleged drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is on trial in a federal courtroom in Manhattan. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Alleged Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman had so many corruption hooks in his native country that federal police there would help unload planes arriving from Colombia laden with cocaine, a former Colombian drug kingpin testified Thursday.

Government witness Juan Carlos Ramirez-Abadia told a Brooklyn federal court jury in Guzman's drug-trafficking trial that beginning in about 1989 and continuing for several years, he arranged with Guzman to ship him tons of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico for shipment to the United States.

Ramirez-Abadia, 55, known as “Chupeta,” was arrested in Brazil in 2007 and later extradited to the U.S. where he pleaded guilty to drug and murder charges.  He altered his physical appearance over the years with plastic surgery.  Ramirez-Abadia testified he ordered at least 150 killings as head of the Norte de Valle cartel in Colombia, also known as the “Northern Valley” cartel.

Guzman justified his 40-percent cut of any cocaine shipped from Colombia by saying he could guarantee security for Ramirez-Abadia and his planes, the convicted drug trafficker said during his testimony.

Testifying with the help of a Spanish-language translator, Ramirez-Abadia said Guzman told him: "Try me, you will see, and your planes and pilots would be secure.”

Ramirez-Abadia said Guzman's assurances of safety meant the alleged drug kingpin had strong corruption connections in Mexico. Guzman's cartel used airstrips in four Mexican states to handle shipments, authorities have said.

After their deal was worked out during meetings in Mexico, Ramirez-Abadia testified Thursday, he shipped a 4,000 kilogram load of cocaine, or nearly 9,000 pounds, to an airstrip Guzman controlled. Once the plane landed, Ramirez -Abadia said, the unloading and refueling was done very quickly.  Federal police arrived in an SUV and teamed up with some of Guzman's men to load the cocaine into vehicles, Ramirez Abadia testified.

It took about a week for Guzman's organization to smuggle the cocaine over the U.S. border to Los Angeles, Ramirez-Abadia testified, and his trafficking organization sent the drugs on to New York.

“I didn’t expect to be that quickly,” said Ramirez-Abadia, who explained that he sometimes had to wait a month for his cocaine to get smuggled over the border.

Guzman, 63, who was extradited to the United States last year, is on trial for running a major drug-trafficking cartel known for greed and violence. His lawyers say he is being framed by cooperators like Ramirez-Abadia. 

While other cooperating witnesses have implicated Guzman through their testimony, Ramirez-Abadia is the first independent cartel leader from another country to tie the defendant to drug trafficking.  He testified to having an extensive cocaine operation in Colombia with processing mills, as well as aircraft and pilots.  Ramirez-Abadia said Guzman suggested he have his chemist mold his cocaine — which he bragged was virtually 100-percent pure — in the form of cylinders resembling jam jars to help the drug weather the rigors of shipping.

In prior testimony, witnesses have alleged that Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel paid $10 million in drug money bribes at least twice to Guillermo Gonzalez Calderoni, a top law enforcement official in Mexico City. In exchange, Calderoni tipped off the cartel about investigations and offered other protections that helped keep Guzman from getting caught.

Ramirez-Abadia’s testimony about federal police helping to off — load drugs underscored the reach the Sinaloa cartel had into Mexico’s police.  On one level it was reminiscent of stories during the unpopular Prohibition years about how the NYPD allegedly helped bootleggers unload whiskey from smuggling ships along the rivers surrounding the city.  But in the case of the Sinaloa cartel, the organization used violence and murder to enforce its lawless rule to get drugs to the U.S., according to prosecutors.

In court for Thursday’s proceedings was Guzman’s stylish wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, 29, a former beauty queen and mother of his two daughters. She was been the subject of a controversy after prosecutors alleged she improperly used a cellphone in the courthouse, in violation of security restrictions in place during the trial.  Defense attorney are expected to file papers in court to answer those allegations.

Judge Brian Cogan adjourned the case until Monday, when Ramirez-Abadia is expected to continue his testimony.

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