A onetime associate of notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman told a federal jury Monday that the Sinaloa cartel paid at least $350,000 in bribes to Mexican military officers to abort operations to capture Guzman more than a decade ago.
The third day of testimony by Jesus Zambada also included lurid descriptions of brutal murders, which the cartel used to deal with various violent threats and personal slights.
According to Zambada, he was told by his older brother, Sinaloa cartel leader Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, that a 2004 meeting between Guzman and a competitor named Rodolfo Fuentes ended poorly when Fuentes didn't shake his hand. The brother claimed afterward that Guzman made it clear he wanted Fuentes dead, and ended up ordering his killing.
Also assassinated were a corrupt police commander in 2008 for telling people "that he was going to finish off [Zambada's] brother and Chapo," and another drug dealer who was struck down by "a hail of bullets from [an] AK-47" that nearly took off his head, the witness said.
As Zambada talked, jurors were shown a picture of a diamond-encrusted .38-caliber pistol decorated with Guzman's initials -- "JGL" for Joaquin Guzman Loera. Zambada also testified that Guzman would carry several firearms at once, including AK-47s, AR-15s, and bazookas.
Zambada described being told by one of his paid informants within law enforcement that authorities were close to capturing Guzman, who was hiding in the mountains of Mexico's Sinaloa state after his first escape from prison in 2001. It was suggested that the cartel should give a $250,000 bribe to a ranking officer, after which, "The operation was aborted. There was no problem," he said. In another instance, Zambada said he was told to pay $100,000 to a Mexican general.
The defense has argued that cooperators like Zambada are framing Guzman to win favor from the court in their own criminal cases. On cross-examination Monday, the defense sought to suggest Zambada was minimizing his own role in the cartel and exaggerating that of Guzman as a mythical kingpin when really they say he was in hiding most of his life of crime and not calling the shots.
Defense attorney William Purpura asked Zambada how it was possible Guzman outranked him when there was evidence Guzman needed to buy his supply of cocaine from Zambada. For emphasis, the lawyer pulled down Zambada's mugshot from a lower portion of a cartel organizational chart on display in the courtroom and held it above one of Guzman.
"How does that look?" the lawyer asked.
"Fine," the witness said with a smirk before quickly qualifying the answer by adding, "I'm below him."
Throughout the day, Guzman took every opportunity possible to seek out his wife, 29-year-old Emma Coronel Aispuro, for waves and smiles. The one-time beauty queen has been a regular presence in court, though the judge in the case denied Guzman's request to "hug his wife" earlier this month.
At one point during Zambada's testimony, Aispuro leaned over in her seat with her head in her hands out of apparent exasperation.
Guzman, who was extradited to New York City early last year, has pleaded not guilty to drug-trafficking charges. If convicted, he would face a possible life term.
Fox News' Marta Dhanis and The Associated Press contributed to this report.