Saturday, 28 Mar 2020

El Chapo Trial: Kingpin Used Spyware to Obsessively Monitor His Wife and Mistress

In the last few months, the 18 jurors at the drug conspiracy trial of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the Mexican kingpin known as El Chapo, have been inundated with evidence exposing the innermost secrets of his global narco-empire. But on Wednesday, the panel got a riveting and unexpected look at something even more revealing: dozens of text messages Mr. Guzmán sent to his wife and mistress.

The private messages — obtained by the F.B.I. with the assistance of an info-tech expert who worked for Mr. Guzmán — painted an astonishing portrait of the crime lord not only as a serial philanderer, but also as a man who, mixing sex and business, relied on the women in his life to help him conduct his daily operations.

In one set of messages, Mr. Guzmán and his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, cooed together over the cuteness of their twin baby daughters and then, in a flash, discussed whether his soldiers had been slaughtered in a gunfight.

As page after page of these intimate notes — one describing how Ms. Coronel’s enchiladas had made the kingpin fall in love with her — were displayed to the jury in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, Ms. Coronel herself sat in the room, stoic and silent, wearing a pair of black designer glasses.

Ms. Coronel, a frequent presence at the trial, displayed no emotion when an F.B.I. agent read aloud a message in which Mr. Guzmán told her about escaping a police raid at one of his safe houses by scrambling out the back. (“Oh love, that’s horrible,” she answered.) There was also no response when the agent read a follow-up message in which Mr. Guzmán asked her to send him some mustache dye and to also replace the underwear, shampoo and after-shave lotion he had left behind.

The only thing more remarkable than these messages was how the F.B.I. got hold of them. On Tuesday, an F.B.I. agent, Stephen Marston, told jurors the dramatic story of how American authorities launched a clandestine operation in 2010 to recruit Mr. Guzman’s I.T. expert, Christian Rodriguez, to become an informant, go undercover and then spy on him. Mr. Rodriguez had built Mr. Guzman and his allies an encrypted communication network, but then helped the bureau crack it.

Testifying for a second day, Mr. Marston recounted that, at Mr. Guzmán’s request, Mr. Rodriguez had also installed spyware called FlexiSPY on Ms. Coronel’s phone as well as on a phone Mr. Guzmán had given to his mistress, Agustina Cabanillas Acosta. After the I.T. specialist told the F.B.I. about the spyware, agents obtained a search warrant for the messages, effectively using Mr. Guzmán’s lust and paranoia against him.

Not even the Mafia boss John Gotti, whom the F.B.I. secretly recorded for hours, had to endure the ordeal of his marital — and extramarital — missives being shown to the world.

In one of Mr. Guzmán’s messages, he ordered his wife to hide his weapons when he believed the police were at their door. In another, he joked about one of their infant daughters in a way that only a drug trafficker could.

“Our Kiki is fearless,” he wrote. “I’m going to give her an AK-47 so she can hang with me.”

The messages also showed how deeply Mr. Guzmán’s romantic partners were entangled in his work life.

“How are the sales going?” he wrote to Ms. Acosta in 2012.

“Oh, like busy bees,” she responded. “Nonstop, my love.”

But Ms. Acosta (who, according to a photo, bore an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Guzmán’s wife) also appeared to be profoundly suspicious of the crime lord. Her own messages showed that she was all but certain Mr. Guzmán was spying on her — as, of course, he was. She even complained about it to her friends.

In one message, she told a friend that she did not trust the BlackBerries Mr. Guzmán had given her because, as she put it, he “can locate them.” In another message, she seemed proud to have figured out her lover was a snoop. “I’m way smarter than him,” she wrote.

After scores of messages were shown in court, Mr. Rodriguez was called to the witness stand. Baby-faced and wearing a blue suit, he told jurors that Mr. Guzmán ultimately had him install the spyware on 50 different phones and was apparently obsessed with it.

Almost every day, Mr. Rodriguez said, the kingpin called him with questions about the software, which was linked to a computer where Mr. Guzmán could view reports on the text messages and GPS locations generated by what he liked to call his “special phones.” Eventually, the reports became so voluminous, Mr. Rodriguez said, that Mr. Guzmán assigned one of his other technicians to read them and give him daily summaries.

At one point, Mr. Rodriguez told jurors, Mr. Guzmán asked him to install a feature on the phones that allowed him to remotely — and secretly — activate their microphones. Then Mr. Guzmán would play a little game, Mr. Rodriguez said. He would call people who had the “special” phones and chat with them for a while then hang up, activate the microphone and listen to what they said about him.

Mr. Guzmán did not spy only on phones.

Mr. Rodriguez testified that once during a stay at one of Mr. Guzmán’s hide-outs in the Sierra Madre mountains, the kingpin asked how long it would take to make a computer “special” too. A woman was also there with them and had brought her computer, Mr. Rodriguez said. When the techie told the kingpin it would only take three minutes, Mr. Guzmán ordered him to do it.

“El Chapo distracted the woman and I installed the spy software on the computer,” Mr. Rodriguez said.

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