Sunday Herald Sun - - News - SARAH BLAKE IN NEW YORK

THE for­mer right hand man of Mex­i­can drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guz­man was yes­ter­day sen­tenced to life in prison.

Da­maso Lopez re­ceived the sen­tence in a Vir­ginia court, sep­a­rate to the high-pro­file New York trial of his for­mer boss which has been run­ning for the past three weeks.

It is un­clear whether the for­mer Si­naloa car­tel lieu­tenant, who ear­lier this year pleaded guilty to traf­fick­ing charges, will be called to give ev­i­dence at the trial of El Chapo.

Pros­e­cu­tors are re­ly­ing on the ev­i­dence of sev­eral for­mer car­tel bosses in their case against El Chapo, 61, who is ac­cused of amass­ing a multi­bil­lion­dol­lar for­tune, con­spir­acy to mur­der and smug­gling thou­sands of tonnes of co­caine, metham­phetamine and mar­i­juana from Mex­ico to the US and other coun­tries in­clud­ing Aus­tralia.

Among them are a for­mer Colom- bian king­pin known as Chulepa, or Lol­lipop, who un­der­went ex­treme plas­tic surgery (be­fore and af­ter pics, right) to try to change his ap­pear­ance and evade au­thor­i­ties.

Juan Car­los Ramirez Aba­dia, 57, who struck a deal for a lesser sen­tence in re­turn for co-op­er­at­ing with the Guz­man pros­e­cu­tion, told the Brook­lyn court he smug­gled more than 400,000kg of co­caine dur­ing his 20year crim­i­nal ca­reer.

With lop­sided fea­tures, taut skin and bulging eyes, Ramirez ex­plained he had un­der­gone sev­eral surg­eries while he was on the run.

The for­mer chief of Colom­bia’s Norte de Valle car­tel, Ramirez was the third of 16 traf­fick­ers-turned-state wit­nesses to ap­pear at the fed­eral court trial of El Chapo, which is an­tici- pated to run for three months. He ad­mit­ted to or­der­ing 150 killings, pay­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in bribes to au­thor­i­ties and amass­ing so great a for­tune he handed over $1 bil­lion to au­thor­i­ties when he was ar­rested in Brazil in 2007.

Ramirez’s ev­i­dence was the first con­nect­ing Guz­man to Colom­bian co­caine. He said he first col­lab­o­rated with El Chapo in the 1990s and that the diminu­tive mob­ster de­manded a big­ger share of pro­ceeds from fly­ing the drugs into the US be­cause his net­work of smug­glers was so ef­fec­tive. “He said, ‘I’m a lot faster. Try me and you’ll see,’” Ramirez re­called, say­ing he was so happy with the ser­vice they worked to­gether for years.

The trial had ear­lier heard ev­i­dence of El Chapo’s vast wealth, in­clud­ing his pri­vate zoo and per­sonal train as well as his love for a gold ma­chine gun and di­a­mond-en­crusted hand­gun. Last week, for­mer Si­naloa traf­ficker Miguel An­gel Martinez told the jury trial of sev­eral at­tempts on his life or­dered by El Chapo, af­ter he was ar­rested in Mex­ico.

In one, the king­pin or­dered a mari­achi band to per­form a favourite song out­side Martinez’s jail win­dow.

Two hours later, he said he sur­vived a raid from his for­mer col­leagues, who held a gun to a prison of­fi­cer and threw two grenades into his jail cell.

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