El Chapo trial week 4: Lost cocaine shipments, keeping track of expenses and a work-related injury

Posted at 3:09 PM, Dec 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-07 17:09:52-05

The federal trial against Joaquin Guzman, aka El Chapo, chugged through its fourth week of testimony with details of lost cocaine shipments and the business aspects of running a drug trafficking ring provided by the former head of the Colombian North Valley Cartel, Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia, other cartel associates and several law enforcement witnesses who were involved in raids linked to the former Sinaloa Cartel head.

A drug smuggling captain lost a load of cocaine

Ramirez, who kept his eyes on his interpreter and attorneys while he testified, said that a captain hired to move drugs in a ship from Colombia to the Mexican coast had a drug problem and began hallucinating that he was seeing ghosts and US Coast Guard agents.

He panicked, thinking he was about to be intercepted, and sank his own ship filled with 20,000 kilograms of cocaine.

Deep sea divers tried recover part the cocaine

The ship sinking incident led Ramirez to personally visit Mexico to view the site of the shipwreck off the coast of Acapulco from a helicopter, from which he was unable to see anything, “just the sea.”

Cartel associates hired a team of deep sea divers who spent a year trying to recover the drugs, and a chemist to try to salvage drugs that had been damaged by seawater.

‘It seems that Mexico is being invaded’

Toward the beginning of Ramirez’s working relationship with the Sinaloa cartel, the cartels would move shipments of cocaine in private planes from Colombia to Mexico. In 1990, as many as 12-15 planes in one night could arrive in Mexico.

But that method had its problems. Airstrips were sometimes hard to land in because of fog. And American authorities started to notice the amount of flights from Colombia to Mexico.

An imprisoned former cartel leader, Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, aka “El Azul,” told Ramirez during a prison visit that he heard a Mexican federal police official joke: “There are so many planes coming into Mexico from Colombia that the Americans are saying it seems that Mexico is being invaded.”

By 1991, Ramirez switched to sending cocaine from Colombia to Mexico in ships.

Cartels kept track of expenses

Despite its role as an international drug trafficking organization, the North Valley Cartel kept detailed reports of costs associated with smuggling drugs, and jurors saw pages and pages of spreadsheets with records of different drug shipments.

The accounting sheets have notes referring to expenses for about 150 murders, Guzman’s defense attorneys pointed out. One line-item reads, “Took payment for the Tatiana Arrangement,” with a $338,776 cost.

Ramirez testified that was code for the murder of a man nicknamed “Tatiana,” whose real name was Luis Alfonso Ocampo Fomeque, and that his murder was ordered after cartel members learned that his brother, Victor Patiño Fomeque, had been collaborating with US authorities.

“It is impossible to lead a cartel in Colombia without violence,” Ramirez testified, when asked by prosecutors about why there were so many deaths.

Coast Guard officer hurt his back carrying cocaine

Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Todd Bagetis, who once helped seize 237 bales of cocaine off a narcotics-smuggling submarine, testified that while lifting some of the 55 pound “bales” of cocaine, he hurt his back.

He also claimed he was exposed to cocaine “through air and skin.”

Guzman, 61 appeared in more relaxed attire during the one of the final days of his former colleague Ramirez’s testimony, at one point swapping his suit and tie for a jacket with a low v-neck shirt.

He has pleaded not guilty but, if convicted of international drug trafficking, conspiring to murder rivals, gun charges and money laundering, could face life in prison.