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Alleged kingpin 'El Chapo' Guzman once made Forbes billionaires list. He now dons Kmart suits at his trial

The late mobster John Gotti, the self-styled "Dapper Don," was a natty dresser known for his custom-tailored...

Posted: Dec 14, 2018 3:37 AM
Updated: Dec 14, 2018 3:38 AM

The late mobster John Gotti, the self-styled "Dapper Don," was a natty dresser known for his custom-tailored, double breasted suits, silk ties with matching pocket squares and handmade shoes.

But alleged drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, whose financial success once put him on a Forbes magazine billionaires list, has gone decidedly more downscale during his federal trial in New York, according to one of his attorneys.

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While Guzman's wealth could have afforded him the finest threads, the diminutive defendant from a small mountain town in the northern Mexican state of Sinaloa always seemed to prefer loud silk shirts with jeans or dark slacks, according to photographs over the years.

At his high-profile trial in room 8D at US District Court in Brooklyn, Guzman has been donning off-the-rack suits from Kmart.

"We bring them. We get them cleaned," defense attorney Eduardo Balarezo said of the five or so budget retailer suits picked out by members of Guzman's legal team. "Enough clothes that he can rotate."

Guzman, 61, was once considered the world's biggest drug trafficker. He has pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking, conspiring to murder rivals, gun charges and money laundering.

His more downmarket courtroom look is a sharp contrast, considering Guzman allegedly ran his cartel like a CEO, bringing in so much cash that in 2009 he landed on a billionaires list in Forbes magazine, along with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.

He allegedly earned nearly $14 billion as head of the Sinaloa drug cartel and used to own a monogrammed, diamond-encrusted handgun and gold-plated assault rifle, according to federal prosecutors. Testimony has painted an extravagant narco lifestyle featuring private zoos, multimillion dollar beach houses and gutted jetliners brimming with cash.

Over two decades, Guzman is said to have transformed the Sinaloa cartel into one of the world's most significant organized crime groups, according to experts. Its dominance in the international cocaine trade began with his implementation of a more horizontal leadership structure, his alleged propensity for violence and largesse toward corrupt public officials.

The case against Guzman is built in part on the testimony of more than a dozen cooperating witnesses, including former cartel associates already incarcerated or who have been given new identities and relocated by the US government.

At trial, Guzman has appeared in dark suits and ties. He often looks adoringly at his former beauty queen wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, a courtroom regular.

The topic of his dress came up Thursday when a reporter outside the courtroom asked Balarezo who gets suits for the defendant.

Balarezo would not say how much has been spent on El Chapo's attire for a trial expected to last four months. The defense lawyer declined to talk about Guzman's preferred stye of dress.

"We have much more important things to talk about right now," he said. "That would be the last thing we discuss."

In court, Balarezo can be seen adjusting Guzman's tie before proceedings get under way. On Thursday, however, the defendant wasn't wearing one.

"The shirt he's wearing today is unfortunately a bit too tight," the lawyer said.

Guzman's toned-down courthouse appearance could be designed to reflect what he has himself described as his poor upbringing in his hometown of Badiraguato, Sinaloa, where he used to sell oranges and soft drinks as a boy. A lack of job opportunities pushed him into the drug trade, Guzman has said.

He was extradited to the US on January 19, 2017, the day before US President Donald Trump's inauguration, when a plane flew Guzman from Juarez, Mexico, to New York.

Editor's Note, added December 13: The lawyer for Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman spoke to CNN on the record in November about the suits he is wearing in court. At the time the lawyer said some of the suits were from Kmart. The lawyer now says he was joking about the suits.

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