Accused of running a multibillion-dollar drug cartel out of Mexico for decades, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is on trial this week in New York on charges of money laundering, smuggling and conspiracy to commit murder. File Photo by Jose Mendez/EPA
Nov. 13 (UPI) — Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is perhaps best known as the accused Mexican drug kingpin who twice escaped prison through elaborate schemes and bribery. This week lawyers began what’s expected to be a four-month trial to prove a slew of crimes detailed in 300,000 pages of U.S. indictments.

Guzman’s trial began last week in New York with a jury selection that ultimately proved to be problematic. A hiccup with one of the jurors — who was dismissed Tuesday over anxiety about the trial — delayed the start of opening statements.

Proceedings were expected to get fully underway Wednesday.

Jurors, whose identifies are being kept secret over concern for their safety, will be partially sequestered through the trial. U.S. marshals will escort them daily between their homes and the federal courthouse in Brooklyn.

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Guzman faces 17 counts in six indictments for crimes across New York, New Jersey, Texas and elsewhere in the United States. The charges include drug trafficking, murder conspiracy and money laundering in his role as leader of the Sinaloa Cartel for 25 years.

Guzman pleaded not guilty to the charges in January 2017.

Prosecutors said Guzman amassed billions of dollars for smuggling cocaine from Colombia to the United States. Officials allege the Sinaloa Cartel under his leadership was responsible for 90 percent of cocaine and heroin in the United States and Europe.

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To facilitate that supply chain, prosecutors said Guzman paid millions in bribes to corrupt officials, from the local level all the way up to the federal and foreign governments.

Prosecutors expect to present thousands of documents and question more than a dozen witnesses, some of whom they say are risking their lives to cooperate. The witnesses, in addition to the jurors, will remain anonymous throughout the trial.

Criminal complaints against Guzman lay out some of his alleged crimes, including:

— Using tunnels to smuggled drugs for miles under the U.S.-Mexican border.

— Using sheets of plastic to cover the walls of a house with a drain in the floor to get rid of blood.

— Ordering subordinates to carry out killings.

Guzman’s lawyers sought in opening remarks Tuesday to prove their client did not, in fact, run the Sinaloa Cartel, but took orders from someone else. They seek to discredit witnesses based on their own criminal records.

If convicted, Guzman faces a minimum of life in prison and a possible forfeiture of some $14 billion.

Security is so tight for the trial that law enforcement officials plan to shut down the Brooklyn Bridge each day as Guzman travels between his maximum-security lockup in Manhattan and the courthouse. He’s proven twice before that guards can’t be too careful in their efforts to keep him in custody.

He escaped from Mexican prisons twice — once in 2001 by hiding in a laundry bin and again in 2015 through a mile-long tunnel dug under the shower in his jail cell.

Guzman’s 2015 escape launched a six-month manhunt that turned deadly when two Mexican marines were killed during patrolling activities in a location where they believed him to be hiding. Marines caught up with him in January 2016 in the coastal city of Los Mochis.

Within months of his arrest, Mexican authorities extradited Guzman to New York to face charges.

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