El Chapo witness admits killings
Ramirez says he ordered 150 assassinations
NEW YORK – At the start of the federal trial of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, defense lawyers said they would discredit prosecution witnesses as criminal liars who would say anything to convict the accused Mexican drug lord and win leniency for their own crimes.
A defense lawyer hammered Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadía in Brooklyn federal court Tuesday, getting the witness who testified he was Guzmán's Colombia cocaine supplier to admit he ordered roughly 150 killings – including the assassination of a man in the Queens borough of New York.
The former head of Colombia's Norte Valle cocaine cartel even kept financial records that listed the costs of some killings to the dollar.
Guzman lawyer William Purpura showed jurors an image of a business ledger and asked Ramirez if one entry referred to “the murders of three people.”
“That's correct,” said Ramirez, whose benign-seeming drug cartel nickname is Chupeta, or lollipop.
The witness said he did not remember the victim's names, but he readily confirmed the cost of the killings: $45,000.
Testifying through a Spanish-language interpreter, Ramirez admitted he ordered the assassination of the brother of a cartel member he believed was cooperating with investigators. That hit cost $338,776, he said.
Asked to explain the higher price, Ramirez said, “It was a big group of hit men who took part in that killing.”
Purpura asked about other murders. Ramirez acknowledged that he lured a cartel member nicknamed Tocayo to a meeting because the man was suspected of cooperating with investigators.
Instead of a discussion, Purpura asked, were Tocayo, his attorney and 10 to 12 others “obliterated ... with guns?”
“That is correct,” Ramirez said. He acknowledged that members of a Tocayo backup group waiting at a nearby gas station were shot to death by cartel hit men known as “sicarios.”
All the bodies were thrown into the back of a pickup and disposed of, he said.
Ramirez admitted he personally killed one adversary, a man named Rodríguez, by shooting him in the face “from a distance of 1 meter.”
He acknowledged ordering assassinations from afar, including the murder in 1993 in Queens of Vladimir Beigelman, a reputed Russian cocaine dealer.
“It's impossible to be the leader of a cartel in Colombia without violence,” Ramirez explained.
The defense team elicited the testimony in an effort to persuade jurors that Ramirez's testimony about Guzman's alleged drug trafficking, conspiracy, money-laundering and other crimes was not credible.
On the stand Tuesday, Ramirez acknowledged he lied habitually – including when he told Colombian authorities he would dismantle his cartel, stop selling cocaine and cooperate with them in exchange for a light prison sentence.
Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia, shown in 2007, was in court Tuesday.