DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN, New York -- Newly unsealed documents about notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman contain claims by witnesses that he had sex with minors he called "vitamins," a disturbing allegation coming just as a jury is about to start deliberating in his U.S. drug-trafficking case.
According to papers made public late Friday, a key government cooperator told authorities Guzman had him drug girls as young as 13 before Guzman had sex with them at one of his Mexican hideouts in the late 2000s.
On Saturday, one of Guzman's lawyers called the accusations "extremely salacious" and questioned the timing of the government filing.
Guzman "denies the allegations, which lack any corroboration and were deemed too prejudicial and unreliable to be admitted at trial," attorney Eduardo Balarezo said in a statement. "It is unfortunate that the material was publicly released just prior to the jury beginning deliberations."
The jury is set to begin deliberations Monday after a nearly three-month trial on charges that as the head of the Sinaloa cartel, Guzman oversaw a drug-smuggling empire that flooded the U.S. market with at least 200 tons of cocaine and made $14 billion off of it. The defense says cooperating witnesses have made Guzman a scapegoat for their own crimes.
Guzman could face life in prison if convicted of drug and murder conspiracy charges that his lawyers say are fabricated.
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There were tales of Guzman running naked through an underground tunnel to evade a manhunt, of hefty cash bribes to top Mexican government and military officials and of the defendant personally torturing and assassinating his enemies in fits of rage.
Prosecutors described the evidence as overwhelming, noting in a court filing Monday that it included witness testimony, text messages, recorded calls, drug seizures and handwritten letters that the government says prove Guzman "was a member of a narcotics conspiracy as one of the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel."
By contrast, jurors watched Attorney Jeffrey Lichtman briefly question an FBI agent about a 2017 debriefing of one of Guzman's cocaine suppliers - government witness Jorge Cifuentes - who has given shifting accounts about his claim that a U.S. intelligence officer once revealed sensitive investigative information with him. It appeared to be an effort to both attack Cifuentes' credibility and support the theory that Guzman was the victim of a conspiracy by the U.S. and Mexican governments to single him out for prosecution.
During cross-examinations of prosecution witnesses, defense lawyers grilled the cooperators about their own criminal backgrounds and the deals they cut with prosecutors that could shorten their sentences. The lawyers have claimed that's an incentive to frame Guzman - a point that is certain to be a central theme of the defense closing argument.
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