Sunday, October 26, 2014

Mexico's Most-Wanted Drug Lord Captured

MEXICO CITY—Mexican Navy marines captured Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán, the world's most powerful drug lord, in a predawn raid Saturday on a modest condominium in the western resort of Mazatlan, officials said. The Drug Lord Who Got Away A 2009 WSJ story profiled Joaquín Guzmán, who was the informal CEO of one of the world's biggest drug-trafficking organizations, the so-called Sinaloa cartel. Culiacan, Sinaloa is the unofficial capital of Mexico's drug-trafficking business. Given the shortened lifespan for drug traffickers, shrines and mausoleums honoring fallen narcos have become an integral part of the city's landscape. David Luhnow and José de Córdoba report from Mexico. The capture likely ends the legendary career of the farmer who rose from poverty in the mountains of the state of Sinaloa and built an empire of cocaine and marijuana that made him a billionaire and caused much of the violence that has killed tens of thousands of Mexicans in the last decade. The arrest of the capo, often described as today's equivalent of the late 1980s Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, marks a victory for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and for his party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. The PRI ruled Mexico for seven decades until it lost power in 2000, returning with Mr. Peña Nieto in 2012 elections. "It's a major coup for the Peña Nieto administration and its allies," said George Grayson, an expert on Mexico and the drug trade at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder hailed the capture as a "landmark achievement." Mr. Guzmán, believed to be 56 years old, was captured once before in 1993, but became a legend among drug traffickers by escaping, hidden in a laundry cart, from a maximum-security prison in Mexico in 2001. He had been on the run ever since, a living symbol of the inability of the Mexican state to corral its powerful drug gangs or their corrupting influence on the country's law-enforcement institutions. Most Mexicans believe the drug lord bribed his way out of jail. It seems unlikely that the arrest will ease the violence. In the past, the capture or death of cartel bosses has often led to a short-term spike in violence as either a fight over succession breaks out within the cartel or other cartels try to take over turf from the deceased capo. Cartels such as the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, which have been weakened in recent years by government strikes, could fight over the drug routes and regions left on the table by Mr. Guzmán, said Raul Benitez, an expert on security at National Autonomous University of Mexico. "There will be a war to control his territories," said Mr. Benitez. Mr. Guzmán arrived on a government airplane to Mexico City's airport, where a waiting helicopter took him to prison. Two marines in camouflage uniforms firmly grasped the captured drug lord, one of them pushing his head down with his hand. In addition to one of Mr. Guzmán's alleged accomplices, authorities confiscated 133 weapons, as well as two grenade launchers and a rocket launcher. The capture was the final scene in a month-long drama that began when intelligence agents discovered one of Mr. Guzmán's hide-outs, a house with reinforced steel doors, in Culiacán, Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam told a news conference. Mexican military held Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman Saturday. European Pressphoto Agency The house had underground tunnels that connected it to seven other nearby houses and was also linked to the city's drainage system, which offered the drug lord an easy means of escape. Mexican authorities could have captured Mr. Guzmán in previous days, but waited to ensure no civilians might be caught in a potential crossfire, Mr. Murillo Karam said. "It was an impeccable operation achieved by navy personnel," he said. U.S. intelligence played a role in the operation, but U.S. officials described this as very much a Mexican operation. "It was a Mexican operation in Mexican territory," said a top-ranking U.S. official. "We played a supporting role." Mr. Guzmán will likely be replaced by his close associate Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, according to Mr. Grayson, the Mexico expert. He said it was unlikely the cartel would be torn apart by infighting. "There was never a hint of hostility between El Mayo and El Chapo," he said. "They worked together deftly." Mr. Guzmán's power to corrupt security forces is the stuff of legend in U.S. and Mexican government circles. Four or five times, Mexican security forces arrived a day late to where Mr. Guzmán had just been. "There were more sightings of El Chapo than there were of Elvis," said Mr. Grayson. Many ordinary Mexicans had trouble believing the news.
"They finally got him? It would be good for the country, but I kind of doubt it. And if they have got him, they'll let him go again. He's untouchable," said Jose Carcaño, a 35-year-old office worker. Others said they were sure the peaceful arrest was the product of a secret deal between the drug lord and the Mexican government. "These types of things are often arranged," said Carlos Velasco, 53 years old, a small-business man in Mexico City. Analysts said the capture should boost confidence among Mexicans and foreign governments in the Mexican government and in particular the PRI, which was widely seen as responsible for allowing drug gangs to become so entrenched in Mexican society during the party's long rule from 1929 to 2000. Many Mexicans worried that Mr. Peña Nieto's administration would strike a bargain with drug lords to reduce violence in exchange for letting them ferry their illicit products. "This eliminates any suspicion that Peña Nieto was going to negotiate with the cartels, and shows he is serious about fighting drug trafficking," said Mr. Benitez. Mr. Guzmán's capture was also a triumph for Mexico's navy. Far smaller than the army, the navy is seen by Washington as more efficient and trustworthy. It has played a role in the capture or death of several top drug lords. For many in Mexico, Mr. Guzmán is the most daring and intelligent of the drug-gang leaders. His cartel, while brutal, often avoided kidnapping and extortion carried out by other gangs, crimes that angered many ordinary Mexicans. The effect was that Mexico's army focused much of its attention on arresting leaders of other cartels, such as the bloodthirsty Zetas. One of four brothers, Mr. Guzmán was born in poverty in a Sinaloa mountain hamlet in the county of Badiraguato, which has the dubious distinction of being the birthplace of most of Mexico's famous drug lords. Badiraguato's location has a lot to do with it: It is the gateway to Mexico's "golden triangle," a remote, mountainous intersection of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua states where opium and marijuana have been grown for generations. As a young man, Mr. Guzmán rose through the ranks to become a top lieutenant for Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, another Badiraguato native and former police officer who had become Mexico's top drug lord. Known as El Padrino, or the Godfather, Mr. Félix Gallardo cobbled together a super-cartel dominated by fellow Sinaloans called "The Federation." But the relative unity imposed by Mr. Félix Gallardo collapsed after his arrest in 1989. His empire, in particular the border crossings that were useful smuggling points, was divided up among his lieutenants. Mr. Guzmán and his close friend Héctor "El Guero" Palma got the border crossing at Mexicali, about 70 miles from Tijuana. Mr. Guzmán began building an empire of his own. He pioneered the use of underground tunnels across the U.S.-Mexico border to ferry drugs. One such tunnel near San Diego had electricity, air vents and rails to transport the drugs, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Mr. Guzmán operated an assembly line, packing cocaine into chili pepper cans under the brand La Comadre, exporting the drugs to the U.S. by rail, his former top accountant, Miguel Angel Segoviano, testified in 1996 at the trial of one of Mr. Guzmán's associates. In return for the drugs, Mr. Guzmán imported into Mexico millions of dollars packed into suitcases flown into the Mexico City airport, where bribed federal officials made sure there were no inspections. Part Al Capone and part Jesse James, Mr. Guzmán became a folk hero, feted on YouTube videos and by musicians who penned ballads, known as corridos, in his honor. He is known throughout Mexico simply as "El Chapo," Mexican slang for a short and stocky man. Adding to his mystique, "El Chapo" survived several assassination attempts by rival gangs, including a 1993 attack that killed a Roman Catholic cardinal. —Laurence Iliff and Amy Guthrie in Mexico City contributed to this article. Write to José de Córdoba at and David Luhnow at

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Report: Jimmy Henchman Stalked 50 Cent, G-Unit Affiliates

New witness testimony in the murder-for-hire trial against former Czar Entertainment CEO James "Jimmy Henchman" Rosemond revealed that the one-time music manager stalked and ordered acts of violence against 50 Cent, Tony Yayo and others linked to G-Unit. Rosemond has already been sentenced to life in prison for running a multi-million-dollar drug ring and is currently on trial for ordering the 2009 murder of G-Unit associate Lowell Fletcher. The three men who have taken the stand against him -- Khalil Abdullah, Brian McCleod and Mohammed Stewart — are Henchman's former cohorts and are all serving prison time. According to Abdullah's testimony, Rosemond got so deeply involved in his client West Coast rapper Game's G-Unit beef that he ordered violent altercations in what turned into a carousel of retaliatory acts between both parties. Abdullah said that the convicted drug kingpin hired people to shoot up Yayo's Bentley after his teenage son was roughed up by the G-Unit rapper. However, defense lawyer Bruce J. Maffio reminded jurors that witness recounts may not be credible since the men are cooperating with prosecutors in hopes of legal leniency. During his turn on the stand, Stewart recalled conversations where Rosemond plotted out ways to stalk Yayo, 50 and Violator Management founder Chris Lighty. His intention was to kill, according to Stewart. "He said that, you know, they're not going to understand what it is until they are carrying a coffin and they're crying, like 'I miss my homie,'' he said. Stewart detailed two specific incidents against Lighty, who was 50's manager. The 36-year-old admitted to shooting up Lighty's office and cutting his brother with a razor during separate run-ins. The shootout was in retaliation to a Hot 97 shooting allegedly carried out by G-Unit members, Stewart said. In more testimony, Stewart admitted that Rosemond offered him $30,000 to murder Fletcher. He also said Rosemond wanted to kill Fletcher himself, assuring that the hit would be "so fast and so quick no one will know." Fletcher was targeted partly because of his criminal record. He was lured to a Bronx street corner and shot dead by Derrick Grant, a mutual acquaintance of his and McCleod's. Rosemond assumed Fletcher's death would fly under the radar because he was "a gang banger," McCleod said. Grant testified that Rosemond paid him with a brick of cocaine worth $30,000 for the Fletcher murder. Abdullah corroborated the murder plot allegations, telling jurors that Rosemond confessed that Grant "came out of nowhere and and clapped the dude up." Meanwhile, lawyer Maffio maintains Rosemond was actually in Miami at the time of the murder. Closing arguments in the trail are scheduled to begin next Monday (March 10).

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Game's Manager Jimmy 'Henchman' Responds To Fed Drug Warrant Report

'I just want my fair trial and to not be railroaded as they so eagerly want to do,' Czar Entertainment exec wrote in a statement.

Almost a week after news emerged that a federal arrest warrant had been issued for Czar Entertainment boss James "Jimmy Henchman" Rosemond in connection with his alleged involvement in a cocaine distribution ring, the music mogul responded on Monday (May 23) to the reports with a lengthy letter professing his innocence.
Lashing out at what he called the "slanderous media" coverage he's gotten about the case and apologizing to the artists and music executives he's worked with over the years, as well as his family, Rosemond said he was surprised by the news of the warrant, which was first reported in the tabloid New York Post.

"The events over the past week, to say the least, have caught me off guard. Although I have been aware of an investigation taking place over the last four years, I was never informed that an arrest warrant had been issued in my name. I first learned about that warrant through the media when the news was released last week," Rosemond wrote.

Last week Rosemond's lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, confirmed to us that he was aware of the indictment and had defended his client against the charges it contained for several years but that he had not heard about the arrest warrant until it was reported in the Post.

"The purpose of this statement is not to assert some kind of grandiose conspiracy theory, but I will state some facts," Rosemond said in his statement, first issued to XXL magazine. "These prosecutors have already begun my trial through the media and I'm releasing this statement in order to set the record straight. I just want a fair trial. I came up from nothing and made some mistakes early in my life of which I have already served time. Since then, I have worked hard to establish my career in the music industry only to be targeted by these opportunistic prosecutors with a personal vendetta against me."

Though MTV News has not named them, Rosemond goes on to refer disparagingly to two New York prosecutors who he claims are "spearheading this slanderous and trumped up case against me," claiming that one of them is using the case to "propel himself to some high-end law firm or political office."

He also called out a former Los Angeles Times reporter and another New York tabloid for planting what he called "slanderous" stories about his alleged cooperation with authorities in other investigations. He took aim at the people he claimed were the prosecution's star witnesses, dismissing one as a "self-proclaimed gangbanger" and arguing that prosecutors have "no evidence that supports my involvement in any of this."

His statement also implies that his own team's investigations have allegedly uncovered proof that prosecutors have been overzealous in their investigations, may have acted in ways that were unconstitutional and allegedly dangled indictments in front of individuals who refused to cooperate with their investigation.

"Up to now I don't know what I may be charged with or what crime I've committed," Rosemond said, indicating that other informants have "motioned via hand signal" to him that they were forced to wear secret recording devices in order to implicate him on tape. "Where's the real proof that I have committed these crimes? I just want my fair trial and to not be railroaded as they so eagerly want to do."

A spokesperson for the U.S. States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York could not be reached for comment on Rosemond's allegations at press time.

Friday, March 26, 2010

DMX to Serve Six Months in Jail After Violating Probation Term

DMX has been sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty to charges of probation violation - but the embattled rapper has been offered a way out of jail thanks to reality TV's Dr. Drew Pinsky. The hip-hop star, real name Earl Simmons, appeared in court on Tuesday, March 16 when he confessed to five separate claims of probation violation by using illegal drugs following his arrest in Phoenix, Arizona on March 9.

The judge ordered DMX to spend time behind bars - but the rapper could escape the jail term and serve his sentence in rehab instead, after an appeal from a representative from the Pasadena Recovery Center in California. The spokesperson approached the judge presiding over the case during the hearing and presented a letter from Pinsky asking for permission to help DMX kick his drug habit at the treatment center.

As WENN went to press, a decision on the offer had yet to be delivered but TMZ reports the judge was "open" to sending the troubled star to rehab. Pinsky has become known to U.S. TV audiences thanks to his reality show "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" and its spin-off "Sober House", in which he attempts to help stars kick their drug and alcohol addictions.

DMX spent time in jail in 2009 on charges of drug possession, animal cruelty and theft, stemming from various arrests in 2008. He was sentenced to 18 months probation after his release in May 2009 for verbally threatening a guard during his stint in prison.

After 19 Years, Released From Prison Under the Rockefeller Drug-Law Reforms

NEW YORK, NY March 26, 2010

Last year, New York State overhauled what many saw as the overly severe Rockefeller drug laws. The changes eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for most drug offenses, expanded drug treatment alternatives, and reduced some penalties. But what about the people still behind bars under the old sentences?

Reporter Maria Scarvalone met with one prisoner who has spent almost two decades in prison under the laws.

On a cold February afternoon, guards eye Amir Varick Amma as he walks into the crowded visitor room at Eastern Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Ulster County. Doors buzz and keys rattle over the din of conversation. It’s a routine Amma knows well. He’s spent the last 19 years in prison as one of tens of thousands of men and women who, under the Rockefeller drug laws, received long sentences for dealing drugs.

Amma, a tall man from Queens with a confident smile and firm handshake, was arrested in 1991 in a drug investigation in Albany. He was 23 years old at the time. Police claimed he was selling cocaine, though Amma denies it. Because he wouldn’t testify against others, Amma turned down a plea bargain that would have given him a maximum six-year sentence. It was a gamble he lost. At trial, he was convicted of two drug felonies -- the most serious for possessing two ounces of cocaine -- and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

Amir Varick Amma was convicted in 1992 of two drug felonies, the worst of which was possession of two ounces of cocaine, and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. He says he's a new man, and changed his name in prison this year to prove it, from Anthony Williams to L. Amir A. Varick Amma.

“When I got that 25 to life, I just couldn’t believe it. Today I still can’t believe it,” Amma says. “I hate to tell people my time because individuals look at me like, ‘Yo, you got 25 to life? I copped out to two bodies. I got ten to life!’ The Son of Sam killer, he received 25-to-life. So, okay, society put me equal with these individuals, 25-to-life? So, like I said, I can’t really say what a just sentence would be, but I know 25-to-life, that’s not just.”

David Soares, Albany’s District Attorney, agrees. “It’s a travesty of justice, really,” Soares says. He has long championed reform of the drug laws, signed into effect in 1973 by then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, who ushered them through the legislature.

“What characterized the drug laws and what made these laws very unique was that the sentences were very severe, placing mandatory minimums for very small amounts of drugs,” Soares says. “For the same crime in Albany County, if everything was the same in 2010 as they were in 1991, Mr. Amma would receive about seven years.”

At dawn on a recent morning in Harlem, prison-reform activists get ready to board two buses. They're headed to Albany along with hundreds of others to lobby legislators. It is the efforts of dogged activists like these that have lead to reforms in the past six years.

But Robert Gangi, head of the Correctional Association, says the reforms have not gone far enough.

“There were significant reforms enacted to the Rockefeller drug laws last year. The problem is that the reform enacted did not represent full repeal, so there are still mandatory sentencing provisions on the books in New York State that will cause the incarceration of thousands of low-level drug offenders each year,” Gangi says.

Eastern Correctional Facility, the maximum-security prison in Napanoch, NY, where Amma has spent the last eight of his 19 years in prison. It is one of the oldest prisons in New York, and opened in 1900.

Nazimova Varick, Amma’s mother, is one of dozens of family members continuing to fight for reform.

“I gave my word so I have to come, but my heart is heavy, real heavy. But I’m here,” Varick says.

She feels she’s done her own time, waiting for her son’s release. Back at her Queens home, a pair of shoes sits near the front door. For her, the shoes are a symbol of hope, one she's kept these many years of waiting while battling her own cancer and heart problems.

“I took my son’s shoes everyplace I went, because I believed this was symbolic of my son walking out of prison. He will put these shoes on to fulfill my prayers, and then he can throw them away,” Varick says through tears.

While his mother waits, Amma has tried to move his own life forward. He has taken college courses, tutored other inmates, and graduated from the prison ministry program. He says he’s a new man, and even changed his name to prove it -- from Anthony Williams to L. Amir A. Varick Amma. Changes, though, that weren’t enough to get him out of prison.

Amma’s shoes, which his mother has kept during his imprisonment, sit near her front door as a symbol of hope that he will come home. She's carried them with her from home to home over the years, and turned the shoes to face into the house when she learned he would be released.

After the first reforms in 2004, Amma’s request for re-sentencing was denied. He'd been caught smoking pot in the prison courtyard seven years earlier, making him ineligible under the strict reform law rules. Ironically, the way the reform laws were written, he would have been eligible if he’d been convicted of a worse drug felony in 1992.

“That really crushed me -- I think that crushed me more than actually being sentenced for the original 25 to life,” Amma says.

Two years later, his petition for merit time early release was denied, for the same reason. Then when he applied for clemency, that too was denied. But in January, his luck finally changed. He applied for re-sentencing under the latest reform law and the judge reduced his sentence enough to be paroled.

Assistant District Attorney Sean Childs says that this time, there was no legal reason to oppose the re-sentencing. “He’s been incarcerated for 20 years so we were just trying to make sure that justice was done that day,” Childs says.

After the hearing, Amma rose and extended his hand to Childs and to the judge. “That was a first time experience. I’ve never had a defendant shake my hand,” Childs says. Sitting in prison only days from his release, Amma explains why he acted so unpredictably. “That was the first step: to surprise the judge and everybody else,” Amma says. “I’m not a monster. I’m just a human being that made a stupid mistake when I was young."

Then he turned around and his lawyer asked Amma for his mother’s phone number to notify her of the news. That was the first time Amma cried. “Wow, I’m re-sentenced!” he exclaimed. His lawyer asked him again for his mother’s phone number, but Amma was too overcome to speak. Finally, he motioned for a pen and wrote the number down. “I still don’t believe it right now,” Amma says about the ruling.

Amma is a lucky man. Fewer than a thousand drug felons have been re-sentenced so far -- out of the more than 10,000 incarcerated in New York prisons.

Tuesday March 23, Amma was released. But he knows he is about to face a series of new challenges. Trying to reconnect with his two sons -- one he has never met -- and making a living in a tough job market, especially difficult for a felon who has never used a cell phone or the internet.

Still, Amma is trying to stay positive.

“What this time did for me, it made me realize that I have the power to have perseverance in the face of adversity. Anything that comes my way, I know that I can handle it,” he says.

Amma's mother, "Queen" Nazimova Varick, had this outfit made for her son to wear home from prison. She thinks Amma, who studied Black history in prison, will like the fabric's motif of the Egyptian ankh, symbolizing life.

For Amma’s mother, her son's coming home is an answered prayer, but she will not relax until she sees him a free man.

“Lord, don’t let me die while my child’s in prison, and don’t let my child die in prison." Varick says. "Until he walks out of the door, until I see my child and I embrace him, the fear is still there. It’s still there. It hasn’t gone away. It’s even worse now, because it’s so close. You know, you say ‘Gee, I came so far –- will I make it to the finish line?'"

For Amma, it’s just the beginning -- of a new life without bars. According to a recent Legal Aid study, he stands a good chance of never returning to prison. Since the first drug law reforms, the recidivism rate for people re-sentenced and released early from prison has been less than 10 percent.