El Chapo now wants quick extradition to US

Drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is willing to plead guilty to any charges in the United States if US authorities promise him a short sentence in a medium-security prison, one of his lawyers says.

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Guzman wants to accelerate the extradition process so he can escape harsh conditions in a Mexican maximum-security prison, where guards will not let his client sleep, lawyer Jose Refugio Rodriguez said.

He said he and Guzman’s family were reviewing options for a US defence lawyer.

“We have talked about a proposal … to plead guilty to the charges in the United States without questioning their veracity,” said Rodriguez, who heads Guzman’s legal team.

“That in exchange for a reduction in the applicable sentence like others have done in these situations, but also look for a medium-security prison so that he’s not in the conditions that he has here,” he said, calling the decision “an act of desperation” because Guzman had “reached his limit.”

But talk of a possible deal is very premature and shows a lack of understanding of the US judicial process, said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw the narcotics division at the US attorney’s office in Miami.

Weinstein noted neither the Justice nor the State departments negotiate with fugitives or other wanted people who are not on US soil, so any discussions could take place only following extradition.

Even if Guzman were to co-operate with US prosecutors, a judge would have the final say on sentencing while prison authorities would decide where he does his time.

“You can’t negotiate with the Bureau of Prisons,” Weinstein said. “Of all the governmental entities in the United States, they are the least flexible.”

Moreover, Guzman, who is considered the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, faces charges from not one but seven different US attorneys’ offices, in cities including Chicago, New York, Miami and San Diego among others, and authorities have not said which one will get the first crack at him.

So at this point there is no one to negotiate a plea deal. And it’s unlikely that anyone in the United States would do so before Guzman set foot in a US courtroom.

In Washington, Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment.