El Chapo wit­ness ad­mits killings

Ramirez says he or­dered 150 as­sas­si­na­tions

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Kevin McCoy

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 tes­tified 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 finan­cial 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 confirmed 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 effort to per­suade ju­rors that Ramirez's tes­ti­mony about Guz­man's al­leged drug traffick­ing, 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.

MAR­CIO FER­NAN­DES/AP

Juan Car­los Ramirez Aba­dia, shown in 2007, was in court Tues­day.

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