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New Attraction For New York Tourists: Watching El Chapo’s Trial

By Sharelle Burt

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Most tourists head to New York to see the Empire State Building or catch the latest Broadway play. Watching the trial of an infamous drug lord isn’t generally on the itinerary.

The trial of Joaquin Guzman, also known as El Chapo, is drawing tourists from near and far to get a glimpse of the Mexican drug trafficking kingpin. Reports show that the Brooklyn courtroom is starting to fill up with more than just the prosecutors and a jury. Tourists and locals are getting up early in the morning to get in line just for a chance to get a glimpse of El Chapo’s face. “It was surreal. It was like I was seeing the TV show ‘El Chapo,'” Peter Stolt said.

Stolt, a new resident of New York, stood outside the building around 6:30 am to make sure he got a seat. The 23-year-old was lucky enough to attend the trial for three days. He even witnessed Miguel Angel Martinez, Chapo’s former assistant, give graphic details on how he managed to escape his life being taken away, claiming hits were put out by Guzman. Martinez, now in witness protection, said one time was after a Mexican brass band serenaded him. “The grenade, the song. … It’s crazy. That was scary,” Stolt remembered.  “It’s crazy that we are hearing this firsthand.”

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Guzman is accused of running the Sinaloa cartel, who prosecutors say smuggled tons of cocaine to the United States. He was extradited to the U.S. last year and faces life in prison if convicted. Testimonies about secret smuggling tunnels built under the border, assassination attempts, bribery of high-level police officials, and factories of disguised cocaine-filled cans filled the courtroom, but defense attornies claim cooperators are lying to get a lighter sentence.

Trial viewers must go through tough security in the building lobby and must remove their shoes to go through a metal detector and X-ray bag scanner. Then they can sign up on a sheet. Wayne Burg, a criminal lawyer from Australia, got to see the trial with his daughter, Lydia, while they were on vacation in the city this month. For Burg, going to see Chapo’s trial was a priority over watching the Knicks play at Madison Square Garden. “The amount of drugs, the amount of money … these are extraordinary levels,” Burg said. “We had a great holiday, but the case was one of the highlights!”

For curious minds that still want to attend, there is still time. El Chapo’s trial is set to go on for another two months.

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Sharelle Burt

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