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From mountain hideouts, ‘El Chapo’ moved drugs and oversaw a film script, witness says

From mountain hideouts, ‘El Chapo’ moved drugs and oversaw a film script, witness says
Drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, left, Colombian drug trafficker Alex Cifuentes and an unidentified woman are shown in an undated photo. (Handout)

A who's who of former Sinaloa cartel chiefs have become cooperating witnesses in the sprawling drug-trafficking case against Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. But Alex Cifuentes, another leader in the multibillion-dollar drug operation, was able to offer a uniquely intimate view of his notorious ex-boss:

For two years, the men were roommates in Guzman’s mountain hideouts in northwest Mexico.

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Cifuentes, a member of a powerful Colombian drug-trafficking family that partnered with Guzman, testified Monday in federal court that he lived with the drug kingpin in variety of “humble pine huts” from 2007 until 2009 so that he could “guarantee” Guzman was sending the right amount of money back to Colombia for the cocaine, heroin and meth they were providing.

And there was a lot of money to send: $40 million a month, he testified. And those modest huts, he explained, were also outfitted with tinted windows, plasma TVs, washer-dryers, an encrypted communication systems, two maids — and heavily armed guards.

Describing himself as Guzman’s “right-hand man and his left-hand man,” Cifuentes said he was essentially one of Guzman’s “secretaries” with duties such as coordinating shipments of tons of cocaine and other drugs to New York, Los Angeles and Phoenix — as well as to Canada.

He said they made “dozens of millions” of dollars on their Canada trafficking alone. Guzman wanted to send drugs across Lake Champlain into Canada via boats; he was also looking to find a ranch with an airstrip in the country to make shipments easier by using aircraft, Cifuentes testified.

Cifuentes also described another task Guzman gave him: having Christian Rodriguez, the tech wiz who became an FBI informant, killed. Guzman learned that Rodriquez was tapping the encrypted communications system he’d created for the cartel after Cifuentes’ brother, Jorge Cifuentes, was arrested.

“We should look for him and kill him,” Guzman told Cifuentes of his desire to have Rodriguez eliminated in retaliation for his betrayal.

Cifuentes then turned to his own secretary for help in finding Rodriguez.

But Cifuentes had a problem: “I didn’t know Christian’s last name,” he said. Neither did his secretary — who said she’d try to use Google or Facebook to find him, according to text exchanges read in court. They never found him.

And there was a less violent project Cifuentes worked on for nearly six years: writing a script for a movie and a book about Guzman, with his full participation. Cifuentes testified that his wife suggested Guzman make a movie and write a book — to make money off his own story. Guzman planned to direct the movie himself, Cifuentes testified.

Though they may have been in hiding in huts high in the mountains, there was still time for parties. Cifuentes recalled one birthday party for Guzman, at which he was given a white armored car, motorcycles and a camouflage Hummer, imprinted with Guzman’s initials.

While a raid by the army was a constant threat in the mountains, Cifuentes said Guzman was always calm. His usual routine was waking up at noon, then returning calls and making deals as he walked through the trees on his property. He also always wore a camouflage jumpsuit “to blend in with the jungle,” Cifuentes testified.

Guzman even admonished a guard once for giving him too much warning of a suspected army raid. Cifuentes said Guzman did not want to be woken in the middle of the night — but if he had to be, Guzman told the guard he only needed five minutes’ notice. “Even if I’m naked,” he said, “I’ll just run away like that.”

Plagianos is a special correspondent.

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