NEW YORK — In the nationwide sweepstakes among federal jurisdictions to put Mexican drug kingpin and escape artist Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman on trial, the place currently leading the pack is far from the border: Brooklyn.

Justice Department officials in Washington still aren’t commenting on the closely watched decision involving seven prosecutor’s offices that have indicted Guzman on drug conspiracy and other charges over the past two decades.

But two law enforcement officials familiar with the process said that it’s likely that if transferred from Mexican to U.S. custody in the coming months, Guzman would be sent to the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn, an office once run by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, has long been rumored to be the front-runner while Guzman has been vigorously fighting extradition, an effort that could drag out indefinitely.

But wherever he ends up in the United States, Guzman is certain to cause a media frenzy and present a security challenge that has bedeviled Mexican authorities. Last year, the boss of the cutthroat Sinaloa cartel escaped prison for a second time – using a mile-long tunnel and allegedly with help from crooked guards – and spent several months on the run before being recaptured in January after a bloody shootout in the coastal city of Los Mochis.

His apprehension, along with Mexican authorities’ decision to transfer him to a jail just across the border from El Paso in Ciudad Juarez, renewed speculation about a possible U.S. prosecution in one of the seven districts – Brooklyn, Manhattan, Chicago, Miami, San Diego, El Paso and New Hampshire.


U.S. indictments in those cities accuse him of overseeing a drug empire that poisoned American streets by smuggling countless tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana via tunnels or secret compartments in cars, trucks and rail cars.

In a move seen as aimed at smoothing the path to extradition, prosecutors in Brooklyn quietly revised their indictment last month to drop more than a dozen death-penalty eligible accusations of specific murders by his henchmen in Mexico, while preserving murder conspiracy charges that could still result in a life sentence. Around the same time, Mexico’s foreign ministry said it had sought and received “sufficient guarantees” from U.S. officials that Guzman wouldn’t be executed.

Only San Diego – the first to indict Guzman in 1996 – and El Paso have made formal extradition requests. But behind the scenes, it’s likely that prosecutors from all seven districts have lobbied the Justice Department to land Guzman, in some cases traveling to Washington to lay out what they see as the strengths of their cases.

Their higher-ups would look to pick the one “that has the best chance to win and put Chapo in prison for the rest of his life,” said Jodi Avergun, a former federal prosecutor in Brooklyn.

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