A notorious drug lord who was Mexico's most wanted man before he was nabbed after six months on the run following a dramatic prison break appeared in person in federal court in Brooklyn Friday for a pre-trial hearing as his lawyers complained about his jail conditions and exercise regimen.
He's locked up 23 hours a day. His wife can't visit him. He can't call anyone, except his attorneys. He even was denied water, lawyers for Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman said in a failed bid to get the judge to loosen them.
Guzman smiled at his common-law wife, Emma Coronel, as he was led into the Brooklyn courtroom under heavy guard by deputy U.S. marshals at his second court appearance since being brought to the United States on Jan. 19.
"This was so far the only way she has been able to see him," defense attorney Michelle Gelernt said afterward with a silent Coronel at her side.
Guzman, 59, has pleaded not guilty to charges of running a massive drug trafficking operation that laundered billions of dollars and oversaw murders and kidnappings. He's being held at a high-security federal jail in Manhattan, with U.S. officials mindful of how he twice escaped from prison in Mexico, the second time via a mile-long tunnel dug to the shower in his cell.
Intense security has followed the slippery Guzman when he's being transported from his cell in Manhattan to a Brooklyn courtroom. A police motorcade escorted Mexico's formerly most wanted man to court Friday.
At the hearing, defense lawyers complained to U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan that the restrictions make it difficult for him to make decisions with them about how to fight the charges. They claimed his jailers are so zealous, they denied him water during a recent meeting with the defense team.
"I don't think there's any thought that if I have the guards give him a glass of water during a three-hour meeting that somehow that's going to effectuate his escape," Gelernt told reporters outside court.
Attorneys also lamented Guzman's one-hour allocation for exercise.
Cogan, after alluding to having secret correspondence with the government about the risks of guarding Guzman, told the defense he wouldn't weigh in on the jail conditions.
"Based on what I know about this case, there are grounds for extra security measures," the judge said, with Guzman listening through a Spanish interpreter.
Prosecutors describe Guzman as the overseer of a three-decade campaign of smuggling, brutality and corruption that fueled an epidemic of cocaine abuse and related violence in the U.S. in the 1980s and '90s.
While on the run, Guzman secretly met with actors Sean Penn and Kate del Castillo in a fall 2015 encounter that Penn later chronicled in Rolling Stone magazine.
In Penn's article, Guzman was unapologetic about his criminal activities, saying he had turned to drug trafficking at age 15 because it was "the only way to have money to buy food, to survive."
The defense says it hasn't seen any evidence of illegal acts.
Guzman is due back in court May 5.