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Accused drug kingpin 'El Chapo' pleads not guilty in N.Y. court

By Andrew V. Pestano and Doug G. Ware
Accused drug kingpin 'El Chapo' pleads not guilty in N.Y. court
Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, pictured here in January 2016, was extradited to the United States on Thursday, the Mexican government said. The reputed cartel leader faces numerous drug-related charges in several states, including California, Florida and Texas. He entered a Brooklyn court on Friday. File Photo by Jose Mendez/European Pressphoto Agency

Jan. 20 (UPI) -- Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán, newly arrived in the United States, pleaded not guilty to numerous criminal charges in New York on Friday -- counts that stem from decades of purported narcotics trafficking.

Guzmán was extradited from Mexico Thursday to face 17 criminal charges related to his drug empire -- including corruption, murder, conspiracy, drug importation and money laundering.

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Friday, the Sinaloa cartel leader pleaded not guilty to the charges, which could put him away for life.

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The accused drug overlord communicated through an interpreter in his court appearance, telling the judge that he understood the charges against him.

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Mexican authorities previously opposed extraditing Guzmán, 59, to the United States unless the U.S. Department of Justice assured he would not face the death penalty, as Mexico opposes capital punishment.

"Who is Chapo Guzmán?" U.S. Attorney Robert Capers of the Eastern District of New York said during a Friday news conference. "In short, he is a man who has known no other life than one of crime, violence, death and destruction."

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Capers said federal authorities would also seek a criminal forfeiture of $14 billion against Guzman's massive illicitly built empire, linked to massive properties, luxury yachts, expensive vehicles, etc.

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The Justice Department opted to prosecute Guzmán in Brooklyn first. He also faces charges in six other federal districts including California and Florida.

"El Chapo" -- meaning "The Short One" or "shorty" -- so dubbed because of his 5-foot-6-inch frame, was first captured in Guatemala in 1993. He has twice escaped from prison since his initial capture.

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As a matter of caution, the Brooklyn Bridge was shut down on Friday while Guzmán was being transported from Manhattan.

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"As you looked into his eyes you can see the surprise, you can see the shock, and to a certain extent you can actually see the fear as the realization started to kick in that he's about to face American justice," Homeland Security Investigations official Angel M. Melendez said Friday, adding that the drug lord would not be escaping from U.S. prisons.

Guzmán's Sinaloa Cartel is credited with dominating the illegal drug market in nearly the entire United States, according to a report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The report states the criminal organization is most powerful "along the West Coast, through the Midwest and into the Northeast."

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