CRIME

'El Chapo' Guzman faces life in prison; not-guilty plea entered

Authorities escort Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman at Long Island MacArthur Airport on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017.

Authorities escort Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman at Long Island MacArthur Airport on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017.  (AP)

Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman faced a judge Friday as a federal public defender entered a not-guilty plea for him, after a top prosecutor said he could face life in prison.

Guzman entered the federal courtroom in the New York City borough of Brooklyn in silence, head up, wearing no handcuffs. He was a wearing a dark blue prison suit with a light brown T-shirt and tennis shoes, with no mustache. His demeanor was subdued and he seemed nervous.

Announcing a 17-count indictment, Robert Capers, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, told reporters: "Today marks a milestone in our pursuit of Chapo Guzman."

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Guzman answered questions through an interpreter standing to his right and said he could understand the judge's English. No bail was sought.

Although he was wanted in six states, he will be prosecuted in a joint Miami-New York indictment in Brooklyn, prosecutors said Friday.

Capers said the trial could last several weeks and that, in accordance with an agreement with the Mexican government Guzman would not receive the death penalty if convicted.

El Chapo ("Shorty") Guzman was extradited Thursday from Mexico to the U.S., where he is wanted in Arizona, California, Texas, Illinois, New York, Florida and New Hampshire on a range of drug trafficking-related charges, including criminal conspiracy, racketeering and money laundering.

Guzman will be charged, among other things, with operating a continuing criminal enterprise - the Sinaloa drug cartel - from 1989 to 2014, Capers said.

Angel Melendez, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations, New York, said that when Guzman arrived by plane from Mexico Thursday night that he saw "shock" and "fear" in his eyes.

Referring to his previous prison breaks, Melendez said, "I assure you, no tunnel will be built leading to his bathroom."

U.S. prosecutors have more than 40 witnesses ready to testify against Guzman, Capers told reporters, adding that the eventual trial will likely last "many" weeks.

Leading the Sinaloa cartel, Guzman oversaw perhaps the world's largest transnational cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine smuggling operation, playing a key role in Mexico's decade-long drug war that has killed over 100,000 people.

Guzman, who has been described in varying accounts by the Mexican government as being born in either 1954 or 1957, amassed substantial wealth that led to his name regularly appearing on Forbes magazine's list of global billionaires.

The cartel chief humiliated the Mexican government by escaping from the Altiplano prison in the central state of Mexico on July 11, 2015, through a mile-long tunnel dug to his cell, but he was recaptured six months later in his home state of Sinaloa.

He had earlier broken out of a prison in the western state of Jalisco in 2001 and spent more than 13 years on the run before being recaptured on Feb. 22, 2014, in the Pacific resort city of Mazatlan.

Fox News' Marta Dhanis in Brooklyn, EFE, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.