Lawyers duel over credibility of Sinaloa cartel members’ testimony in trial of their former colleagues

Border Report

Arturo Shows Urquidi. / Courtesy of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – The fate of two high-profile Sinaloa cartel members is in the hands of a local jury now that they’ve heard more than 20 testimonies and final arguments from attorneys in the case.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys made their case before a 14-member jury on Thursday before U.S. judge Frank Montalvo in the trial of sicario Mario Iglesias and drug trafficker Arturo Shows Urquidi. Both sides argued over the legitimacy of testimony by at least a dozen incarcerated members of the Sinaloa cartel.

”The theme of this case is not the stories that are told, it’s who is telling them,” Jorge G. Aristotelidis, a San Antonio criminal defense attorney said.

Prosecutors fired back saying the best way to know about what Iglesias and Urquidi did as working members of the cartel was to hear directly from the people involved with them.

The argument between the two posed a question to the jury as they deliberate over whether the two on trial are guilty of racketeering, trafficking, and various crimes including murder, kidnapping and money laundering.

The trial is part of a large indictment by a federal grand jury that included Sinaloa cartel leaders Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and Ismael “Mayo” Zambada Garcia. On April 24, 2012, the leaders and 22 other members of the cartel were charged with criminal activities ranging from trafficking drugs to conspiracy to kill in a foreign country.

Numerous testimonies have been delivered against the two, mostly from people they worked alongside loading and offloading drugs and individuals who have also participated in numerous murders and kidnappings on behalf of the cartel. Some are awaiting sentences in their trials. 

The time period of the testimonies has been between the late 1990s to the late 2000s when the Sinaloa cartel began operating in Juárez to the time they hit the peak of their war with the Juárez cartel or La Linea.

Federal agents have also testified to the magnitude of drug trafficking through the border during the trial. Their testimonies have also served as an account of the activity the Sinaloa drug cartel had on the area.

Prosecutors called on the jury to remember the testimony of men like Rafael Figueroa Merino, a sicario for the Sinaloa cartel who testified that he worked with Iglesias. David Sanchez, also known as “Christian,” told jurors about trafficking drugs through tankers and pipes with Urquidi.

But defense attorneys argued the testimony from the former cartel members would not establish “beyond the reason of doubt,” whether Iglesias and Urquidi could be guilty under the legal definitions of the charges against them.

Aristotelidis argued the testimony of former cartel members was only to benefit their own cases as they sought sentence reductions and other favors in return for testimony. He posed the question, how could they be trusted after they’d lied and committed such atrocious acts in their pasts.

He also criticized the U.S. government’s use of using cartel members turned informants to bring down other accused criminals.

“Call this what it is, call it what it is, a poor attempt to find justice,” he said.

Prosecutors countered that informants had helped keep large amounts of drugs off U.S. streets, including the seizure of nearly two tons of marijuana and 75 kilos of cocaine in examples expressed during the trial.

And, that the arrest and information given to the U.S. government by Figueroa helped dismantle major operations of the Sinaloa cartel in Juárez. Informants, prosecutors said, had reason to tell the truth and cooperate with the U.S.

Prosecutors also said the testimony from former cartel members was an important proof of the involvement and actions in which Iglesias and Urquidi participated. They pointed out the violent nature of the cartel during the mid-2000s and to find the two guilty of their involvement.

“If the Sinaloa cartel is not hell, I don’t know what is,” a U.S. attorney said.

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