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How El Chapo Became a Kingpin, According to a Witness

Category: Americas,World

Mr. Martínez’s success in taking Colombian cocaine safely into Mexico, he explained, endeared him to Mr. Guzmán, who soon became his son’s godfather. The two men also started traveling together, Mr. Martínez recalled: once to Los Angeles, where Mr. Guzmán spent $6 million buying airplanes, and then to Las Vegas, where they gambled.

Mr. Guzmán also opened up to him, Mr. Martínez said, telling him how he got his start in dealing drugs by cultivating marijuana near his home in Sinaloa, Mexico, and making heroin by scraping — “little by little every morning” — the milk-like sap out of the poppies he had planted.

“He was a very poor person who didn’t have anything to eat,” Mr. Martínez said. “And that was the reason why he got involved in drug trafficking.”

But Mr. Guzmán did not stay poor for long. In a bit of back story that was part Mr. Martínez’s testimony in a trial in 2006, he said Mr. Guzmán owned at least three Lear jets and moved about with an entourage of gunmen, shuttling among multiple homes in multiple Mexican cities. In one of those homes, there was a hidden compartment underneath a bed that raised off the floor on a hydraulic-powered lift. Mr. Guzmán also had a zoo in Guadalajara, Mr. Martínez noted in 2006, where he kept lions, tigers, crocodiles and bears.

Some of El Chapo’s fortune was used to buy off the authorities, Mr. Martínez told the jury on Monday, including the chief of Mexico City’s federal police. According to Mr. Martínez, Mr. Guzmán paid the police chief $10 million two or three times in the early 1990s. In exchange, he said, the chief gave the kingpin information about drug investigations and helped him track down his enemies and rivals.

At least twice since he was arrested by the Mexican authorities in 1998, assassins have tried to kill Mr. Martínez. The first attempt on his life came shortly after he was taken into custody. A group of killers confronted him in prison, stabbing him repeatedly. After a second knife attack, he testified at the separate trial in 2006, someone threw two hand grenades into his cell. He survived, he said, by hiding behind his toilet bowl.

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