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U.S. judge rejects 'El Chapo' request to move out of solitary

By Andrew V. Pestano
A U.S. federal judge ruled Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán must remain in solitary confinement due to his history of breaking out of prison. File Photo by Jose Mendez/EPA
A U.S. federal judge ruled Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán must remain in solitary confinement due to his history of breaking out of prison. File Photo by Jose Mendez/EPA

May 5 (UPI) -- Brooklyn federal judge Brian M. Cogan ruled Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán must remain in solitary confinement, but granted the Mexican drug lord more communication.

Cogan on Thursday rejected most of Guzmán's requests to loosen restrictions he is facing while imprisoned at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.

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Guzmán is under special administrative measures, or SAMs, which were imposed on the drug lord due to his prior escapes from Mexican prisons.

Cogan said that though Guzmán does face burdensome restrictions the majority of inmates do not encounter, his history and the possibility that he could give orders to his Sinaloa Cartel within the Manhattan prison are reason enough to keep most restrictions in place, as prosecutors argued.

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"The government has articulated legitimate objectives of preventing defendant from running the Sinaloa Cartel from prison, coordinating any escape from prison, or directing any attack on individuals that he may believe are cooperating with the government," Cogan said in his ruling. "I recognize that the SAMs impose burdens on defendant that an average general population prisoner does not have to bear, but the SAMs, as a whole, are rationally connected to a legitimate government objective."

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However, Cogan did authorize that Guzmán be able to have limited, pre-screened communication with his wife and family members. Cogan also ruled Metropolitan Correctional Center officials are prohibited from monitoring Guzmán's lawyer visits to report back to prosecutors.

Guzmán, who appeared in court on Friday, pleaded not guilty to 17 criminal charges related to his drug empire -- including corruption, murder, conspiracy, drug importation and money laundering.

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A judge set his trial for April 2018.

Guzmán's Sinaloa Cartel is credited with dominating the illegal drug market in nearly the entire United States. "El Chapo" -- meaning "The Short One" or "shorty" -- so dubbed because of his 5-foot-6-inch frame, was detained in Guatemala in 1993 and then extradited to Mexico to face murder and drug trafficking charges.

He escaped from prison in 2001 by hiding in a laundry cart after bribing prison guards, and was re-captured in February 2014. He was captured a second time in the city of Los Mochis in his home state of Sinaloa on Jan. 8 after escaping from Mexico's Altiplano Federal Prison on July 11, 2015. Mexico extradited Guzmán to the United States on Jan. 19.

RELATED Lawyers for 'El Chapo' want him transferred out of solitary

Amnesty International in March asked Cogan for permission to visit Guzmán and for him to be transferred out of solitary confinement and into the general prison population.

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