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Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman sentenced to life in prison

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Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman sentenced to life

NEW YORK — The Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has been sentenced to life behind bars in a U.S. prison, a humbling end for a drug lord once notorious for his ability to kill, bribe or tunnel his way out of trouble.

A federal judge in Brooklyn handed down the sentence Wednesday, five months after Guzman’s conviction in an epic drug-trafficking case.

The 62-year-old drug lord, who had been protected in Mexico by an army of gangsters and an elaborate corruption operation, was brought to the U.S. to stand trial after he twice escaped from Mexican prisons.

Before he was sentenced, Guzman, complained about the conditions of his confinement and told the judge he was denied a fair trial. He said U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan failed to thoroughly investigate claims of juror misconduct.

“My case was stained and you denied me a fair trial when the whole world was watching,” Guzman said in court through an interpreter. “When I was extradited to the United States, I expected to have a fair trial, but what happened was exactly the opposite.”

The harsh sentence was pre-ordained. The guilty verdict in February at Guzman’s 11-week trial triggered a mandatory sentence of life without parole .

The evidence showed that under Guzman’s orders, the Sinaloa cartel was responsible for smuggling mountains of cocaine and other drugs into the United States during his 25-year reign, prosecutors said in court papers re-capping the trial. They also said his “army of sicarios” was under orders to kidnap, torture and murder anyone who got in his way.

The defence argued he was framed by other traffickers who became government witnesses so they could get breaks in their own cases.

Guzman has been largely cut off from the outside world since his extradition in 2017 and his remarks in the courtroom Wednesday could be the last time the public hears from him. Guzman thanked his family for giving him “the strength to bare this torture that I have been under for the past 30 months.”

Wary of his history of escaping from Mexican prisons, U.S. authorities have kept him in solitary confinement in an ultra-secure unit at a Manhattan jail and under close guard at his appearances at the Brooklyn courthouse where his case unfolded.

Experts say he will likely wind up at the federal government’s “Supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado, known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.” Most inmates at Supermax are given a television, but their only actual view of the outside world is a 4-inch window. They have minimal interaction with other people and eat all their meals in their cells.

While the trial was dominated by Guzman’s persona as a near-mythical outlaw who carried a diamond-encrusted handgun and stayed one step ahead of the law, the jury never heard from Guzman himself, except when he told the judge he wouldn’t testify.

But evidence at Guzman’s trial suggested his decision to stay quiet at the defence table was against his nature: Cooperating witnesses told jurors he was a fan of his own rags-to-riches narco story, always eager to find an author or screenwriter to tell it. He famously gave an interview to American actor Sean Penn while he was a fugitive, hiding in the mountains after accomplices built a long tunnel to help him escape from a Mexican prison.

There also were reports Guzman was itching to testify in his own defence until his attorneys talked him out of it, making his sentencing a last chance to seize the spotlight.

At the trial, Guzman’s lawyers argued that he was the fall guy for other kingpins who were better at paying off top Mexican politicians and law enforcement officials to protect them while the U.S. government looked the other way.

Prosecution descriptions of an empire that paid for private planes, beachfront villas and a private zoo were a fallacy, his lawyers say. And the chances the U.S. government could collect on a roughly $12.5 billion forfeiture order are zero, they add.

The government’s case, defence attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said recently, was “all part of a show trial.”

Tom Hays, The Associated Press




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RCMP not negligent in death of B.C. teen whose overdose was filmed: watchdog

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LANGLEY, B.C. — British Columbia’s police watchdog has concluded two Langley RCMP officers were not negligent in their response to a report of a teenage boy who was in distress after consuming a large quantity of drugs.

The Independent Investigations Office says the overdose death of 14-year-old Carson Crimeni was a “tragic incident” but police played no role in that outcome and it’s not recommending charges.

The office says in an investigation report released Monday that on Aug. 7, two Langley RCMP officers responded to a call about a distressed male on drugs in the vicinity of a skate park.

The Mounties were unable to find the teenager, and later that night Crimeni was found near a baseball field about 650 metres from the skate park and was rushed to hospital but did not survive.

The report by chief civilian director Ronald MacDonald says the officers spent almost 20 minutes at the skate park area and found no trace of Crimeni or anyone with information about him.

It says Crimeni and the group of young people he was with had moved to another location a considerable distance away and there was nothing at the skate park to assist police in determining where they might have gone.

“The actions of the officers were not negligent. They acted completely reasonably in the circumstances,” MacDonald writes in the report.

“Certainly, had any information to suggest the location and condition of (Crimeni) been known at the time, the police could have reacted to it. As noted, however, there was none.”

Crimeni’s family believes the drugs were given to him by other teenagers who filmed and posted his reaction on social media. An RCMP investigation is ongoing.

In the report, MacDonald notes that the initial call to police came from a parent whose daughter had shown her a Snapchat photo of Crimeni looking “out of it.” The photo had apparently been sent to the girl by an older teen.

The parent passed on an assertion to the police dispatcher that the boy had taken 15 capsules of “molly,” also known as MDMA or ecstasy.

An employee of the recreation centre next to the skate park told the two RCMP officers that she hadn’t seen an intoxicated male. The employee told the investigations office that it appeared the officers were unsure if the report was genuine or a hoax but they were looking to see if they could find anyone around the area.

The location where Crimeni was found more than two hours later was on the other side of a number of large buildings and other visual obstructions, the report adds.

At his funeral in August, Crimeni’s family and friends remembered him as a funny, energetic boy who loved to cook, play video games and joke with his buddies. But they also urged mourners to take action against peer pressure and teenage drug use so his death would not be in vain.

“At only 14 years old, his life was taken, and he was just trying to fit in. All he ever wanted to do was fit in and have friends who loved him,” said his sister, Bella Griffiths.

“I really hope after this, people really start to realize that drugs are not a joke. They can take anyone away in a heartbeat.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2019.

The Canadian Press

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Kenney aims for clear signs of federal action on two-day Ottawa trip

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OTTAWA — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney expects to finish meetings with the prime minister and other senior federal officials this week with clear evidence Ottawa is going to take action on some of his province’s demands, he said Monday.

He’s bringing five requests into his meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, set for Tuesday, among them changes to the fiscal-stabilization program and to two pieces of legislation heavily criticized by the energy sector as putting a freeze on new development.

In a speech to the Canadian Club in the capital, Kenney noted those were both supported by all premiers at a meeting last week.

“If I was the federal government, I would take that as a pretty strong prompt, a nudge, to deliver,” he said.

“I don’t expect to be walking out of the prime minister’s office with written agreements on these things tomorrow but I sure hope we get an indication they are prepared to move.”

Kenney is in the nation’s capital on a two-day political trade mission of sorts, travelling with eight cabinet ministers and a posse of officials all pressing the case for those in the federal government to take seriously the economic and social costs of the ongoing challenges to Alberta’s economy.

Too many Canadians believe the issues facing Alberta are about a downturn in oil prices five years ago, Kenney told a packed ballroom at Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier hotel Monday.

But the reality is, oil prices have stabilized and in the U.S. the energy sector is in the midst of a job boom, while Alberta’s industry is facing a crisis.

“The difference is not (oil) prices,” he said. “It is policy.”

Alberta has been hit in the last week with several pieces of bad economic news. Last Tuesday, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the province’s credit, citing concerns over its reliance on non-renewable resources — mainly oil.

It also warned that Alberta has a high “environmental risk,” with its carbon-intensive oil and gas sector leaving it susceptible to costly wildfires and floods.

On Friday, Statistics Canada reported that last month in Alberta, the unemployment rate rose to 7.2 per cent from 6.7 per cent. The number of jobs fell by 18,000.

On Tuesday, in addition to requesting retroactive changes to the fiscal-stabilization program and changes to natural-resource legislation, Kenney will also press Trudeau on placing a hard deadline on the completion of the Trans Mountain pipeline project, with Indigenous groups quickly made partners; an expansion of tax instruments to help increase investment; and federal recognition for Alberta’s methane regulations.

What Albertans want isn’t unreasonable, nor does it hurt any other province, Kenney said.

“We are simply asking for a fair deal now,” he said.

During Monday’s lunch, he was seated at the same table as Trudeau’s deputy prime minister, Alberta-born Toronto MP Chrystia Freeland, who has been tasked by Trudeau with repairing the strained relationship between the federal and provincial governments.

Kenney will also meet with leaders of the NDP and the Conservative party.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2019.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press





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