- Associated Press - Thursday, May 4, 2017

NEW YORK (AP) - Mexican drug lord and escape artist Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman needs to stay in solitary confinement at a New York City lockup to keep him from trying to control his drug-trafficking empire from behind bars, a judge ruled Thursday.

In a written decision, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan rejected a request by Guzman’s defense team to order him released from an ultrahigh-security wing of a jail in lower Manhattan and be allowed in the general inmate population and receive visitors.

Solitary confinement is needed “to ensure that the defendant cannot coordinate an escape from prison, direct any violence against cooperators or manage any aspect of the Sinaloa cartel’s enterprise,” the judge wrote. He agreed to let Guzman communicate with his wife but only through letters screened by federal agents.

In a statement, defense attorneys Michelle Gelernt and Michael Schneider called it “devastating” for both Guzman and his wife that they won’t be allowed jail visits.

“We continue to believe that the conditions of Mr. Guzman’s detention, including being held in solitary confinement, are untenable, especially over the time that it will take for this case to go to trial,” they said.

Guzman, 59, was brought to the United States in January and pleaded not guilty to charges that he oversaw a multibillion-dollar international drug trafficking operation responsible for murders and kidnappings.

Since then, he has been locked up for 23 hours a day in a 20-by-12-foot (6-by-3.7-meter) cell in a unit that has held other high-profile, high-risk inmates like Gambino crime family boss John Gotti and several former close associates of Osama bin Laden. His lawyers had called the conditions inhumane and argued that restrictions limiting access to his lawyers and barring him from seeing or speaking on the phone with his wife violated his constitutional rights.

The government had countered the conditions are appropriate for someone who escaped twice from prison in Mexico, including once through a milelong (1.6-kilometerlong) tunnel dug to the shower in his cell. Prosecutors said that even while he was behind bars in Mexico, Guzman used coded messages, bribes and other means to direct his cronies and orchestrate his breakouts.

The judge ruled that the conditions don’t create constitutional concerns. He also rejected a demand to allow an Amnesty International representative inside the jail to assess allegations that the conditions are abusive, saying the human rights group’s involvement would be “superfluous.”

Guzman is due in court on Friday for a pretrial hearing.

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