January 29, 2019 / 9:06 PM / 7 months ago

'El Chapo' defense rests after calling one witness

(Reuters) - Attorneys for accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman rested his defense after calling a single witness who testified for less than half an hour on Tuesday morning, putting the case on track to go to the jury as early as Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Recaptured drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers at the hangar belonging to the office of the Attorney General in Mexico City, Mexico January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Henry Romero/File Photo

Closing arguments are scheduled to begin on Wednesday and expected to last about two days. After that, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan, who is presiding over the trial in Brooklyn federal court, will instruct the jury so it can begin deliberating Guzman’s fate.

The brief defense case was in sharp contrast to the 10-week presentation put on by prosecutors, who called over 50 witnesses to testify. Guzman said on Monday that he would not testify in his own defense.

Guzman, 61, was extradited to the United States in January 2017 and has been on trial since November. Prosecutors have accused him of trafficking massive quantities of cocaine, heroin and other drugs into the United States as leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, named for his home state in northern Mexico.

His lawyers have argued that he was framed by the cartel’s real leader, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.

The only witness called by Guzman was Paul Roberts, an FBI agent who took part in a 2017 interview of Jorge Cifuentes, a Colombian drug trafficker currently in U.S. custody.

Guzman’s lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, noted Roberts was a “not exactly friendly” witness for his client but elicited testimony from the FBI agent that appeared to contradict something Cifuentes said at trial.

Roberts said that, according to his interview notes, Cifuentes said he was shown evidence of an investigation against him in 2010 by a U.S. naval intelligence officer, not a Colombian naval intelligence officer as he said on the stand.

Cifuentes, whose family ran a powerful drug trafficking organization in Colombia, was one of 14 so-called cooperating witnesses who agreed to testify against Guzman after striking plea deals with U.S. prosecutors. Their testimony was the heart of the prosecutors’ sprawling case.

Lichtman also read jurors an agreement between Guzman and the prosecutors about how another FBI agent would have testified if called. Lichtman said the agent would have said that Jorge Cifuentes’ brother Alex Cifuentes once told law enforcement officials that Guzman incurred $20 million in debt between 2007 and 2013.

Lichtman said in a court filing last week that he wanted that evidence to show Guzman was not a wealthy kingpin.

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Anthony Lin and Dan Grebler

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