BROOKLYN (CN) — The credibility of nine cooperating witnesses tied to the Sinaloa drug cartel came into focus during closing arguments Wednesday as the monthlong trial of Mexico's former head of public security ramps up to jury deliberations.
Genaro García Luna is charged with five counts that accuse him of cocaine distribution under a criminal enterprise and lying to immigration officials when he said he had not committed any crimes. Over the last four weeks, prosecutors have summoned several members from one of Mexico’s biggest drug operations to give accounts such as having personally witnessed the payment of millions of dollars to García Luna in exchange for information on upcoming raids and help going after rival cartels.
Attorneys for the 54-year-old ex-cabinet official who served under former President Felipe Calderon urged jurors not to put too much stock into the word of career criminals responsible for importing thousands of tons of cocaine into the United States and carrying out the murder and torture of hundreds — some of whom are angling for lighter sentences after their testimony.
“At some point, you have to stand up and say no,” attorney Cesar De Castro told jurors. “You, the government, have made a deal with the devil.”
As prosecutors argued, however, who better to explain the significance of García Luna's support than drug ring insiders.
“I’m not asking you to like them. These people have done some horrible things; they’re criminals,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Saritha Komatireddy said. “But it takes one to know one.”
Buoyed by García Luna’s help, the government argues, the cartel helmed by the notorious Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán expanded to a billion-dollar scale. One witness, Tirso Martinez Sanchez, described how in the early 2000s he smuggled as much as $1 billion worth of cocaine into the United States via trains with oil tanks that featured hidden compartments where the bricks were stashed. The drug warehouses were connected to railroad stations via newly built train tracks, but he said the shipments were never seized in Mexico.
Witnesses also said the cartel paid off police staff at the Mexico City International Airport, and airport workers on the payroll would grab specially marked luggage from flights to hand-deliver the drugs inside to Sinaloa members.
“They would not have taken that kind of risk if the defendant were not on board,” Komatireddy said. “When it comes to the logistics of the operation, these guys are like the FedEx of cocaine.”
Defense attorneys pointed to a dearth of physical evidence — photographs, recordings, emails or financial records — despite testimony that the cartel kept track of government officials on its payroll.
“When you’re responsible for the murder of thousands of people,” De Castro posed, “what’s so hard about lying about one man?”
He said that, by testifying against García Luna, the cooperators not only retaliate against the symbol of Mexico's federal police but they get themselves shorter sentences and U.S. visas that let them stay in the country with their families — rather than return to near-certain death in Mexico.
“They want the ultimate revenge,” De Castro said. “Put away the United States’ most trusted partner in the war against them. And they want you to do it on their words alone.”
Komatireddy stood by the word of the government's witnesses.
“Real evidence is people testifying under oath about things that only they can tell you about,” she said. “They told you what they saw, that they did, how they did it, and who they needed to get it done.”
Jurors are expected to begin deliberations on Thursday. U.S. District Judge Brian M. Cogan is presiding.
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