Cocaine supplier who became a star witness at El Chapo’s trial could be free in a year

Juan Carlos Ramírez Abadía (Photo: USA Today)

El Chapo’s cocaine supplier, whose testimony helped seal the famed drug lord’s fate, got one step closer to freedom Monday when a judge sentenced him to 20 years — most of which he’s already served.

Colombian drug lord Juan Carlos Ramírez Abadía will likely be out of prison within a year after Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Brian Cogan handed down the sentence.

The 60-year-old cartel leader, who was arrested in Brazil in 2007 and extradited to the U.S. a year later had originally signed a cooperation agreement in exchange for a 25-year prison term — but that was before anyone realized Chapo would be captured and go to trial in 2018.

“It just wasn’t foreseeable how valuable this defendant was going to be. Nobody knew that he was going to take the stand at the trial and that he would be such a pivotal witness,” Cogan said.

Ramírez committed “incredibly horrendous crimes” that can’t be wiped away, but his cooperation “really does a lot to show his effort to make amends,” the judge said.

Ramírez, nicknamed “Chupeta,” or lollipop, turned heads when he showed up in court with a face so altered by plastic surgeries that he looked almost alien. The surgeries were an attempt to evade capture.

“I altered the physical appearance of my face by changing my jawbone, cheekbones, eyes, mouth, ears,” he testified.

He told the jury that he regularly sold Chapo, whose real name is Joaquín Guzmán Loera, planeloads of his best cocaine as the leader of Colombia’s largest drug gang, the North Valley Cartel. He also described his own violent reign, ordering 150 murders and carrying out at least one himself.

Chapo, the notorious boss of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, was found guilty after a blockbuster 12-week trial that saw testimony from 56 prosecution witnesses, including a half-dozen Sinaloa Cartel turncoats. Cogan sentenced him to life in prison plus 30 years.

The 66-year-old kingpin, who twice escaped from Mexican prisons, is locked up in the federal “Supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado, known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.”

Ramírez’s lawyer, Paul Nalven argued in May the original plea deal came after former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe complained that the high-level cartel members extradited to the U.S. were getting cut loose after short prison terms.

Cogan tossed out the original 25-year plea agreement in May and approved a new agreement allowing a range of 19-25 years. He went with 20 years, he said, because “There’s only so much forgiveness that a person can have for doing things like that.”

On Monday, Nalven said that a DEA assessment credited his client with helping prosecutors make several other cases involving high-level Colombian drug traffickers.

“It’s time,” Nalven told the judge, requesting he get 19 years, which would amount to time served. “It’s time from an objective point of view.”

Though prosecutors refused to say on the record whether he’d be placed into a witness protection program, Nalven asked the judge to recommend that Ramirez be placed in a major metropolitan area capable of handling his complex medical problems.

“If he’s sent to a fishing town on the northern Pacific coast and wants to find a plastic surgeon that removes polymer from the human head, I think he’s gonna be out of luck,” he said.

Ramirez, who has a $10 billion forfeiture judgment against him as part of his plea deal, has handed over $1.2 million, and three different governments have recovered about $1 billion in real estate, securities accounts, cash, and precious metals, Nalven said.

“I think what happened today was an exercise of fairness of justice,” Nalven said on Monday, August 14th, after the proceedings.

Source: U.S. State Department

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