Day 6

Guns, drugs and liposuction: What the FBI learned when it flipped El Chapo's IT guy

This week, jurors in the trial of Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzmán heard evidence from his former IT guy. Courthouse News reporter Amanda Ottaway says that could lead to legendary Mexican drug lord's downfall.

'He turned over user names and passwords for the entire encrypted network'

Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman is escorted as he arrives at Long Island MacArthur airport in New York, N.Y., on Jan. 19, 2017, after his extradition from Mexico. (U.S. Officials/Handout via Reuters)
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This week, jurors at the trial of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán heard his secretly recorded phone calls and years worth of his text messages.

All of it was courtesy of his IT guy, who was acting as an FBI double agent.

The trial started on Nov. 13 in Brooklyn, N.Y. Guzmán is facing life in prison on conspiracy charges.

Prosecutors say he was the head of the all-powerful Sinaloa drug cartel, a billion-dollar empire that trafficked narcotics and weapons into the United States and played a key role in the brutal Mexican drug wars that have left thousands dead.

The defence is trying to position him as a scapegoat for the cartel.

A motorcade carrying Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman crosses the Brooklyn Bridge following his court appearance in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, N.Y., Feb. 3, 2017. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

So far, key associates, including one of his former lieutenants, have taken the stand. But according to Courthouse News reporter Amanda Ottaway, this week's testimony from Christian Rodriguez could be the most damning yet.

As Ottaway told Day 6 host Brent Bambury, it was the work and testimony of the Colombian computer whiz that could decide El Chapo's fate.

A lot of the testimony this week revolved around this guy, Christian Rodriguez. Who is he and what did he do for El Chapo?

Christian Rodriguez is this 32-year-old Colombian tech prodigy. He's like a total whiz kid. He dropped out of college to start his own cyber security company. 

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán heard about this guy and wanted him to install an encrypted communications system for the Sinaloa cartel.

But he flipped, right? He's the state's evidence now. 

Correct. And that's kind of a crazy story too. He was on his way to a meeting in Bogota, Colombia, to meet with a guy he thought was a Russian organized crime personality. 

He thought the guy wanted him to design encrypted communications for him too. Turns out it was an FBI sting operation. And he said that he flipped that same day.

The FBI has essentially used El  Chapo's  own paranoia against him.- Amanda Ottaway

Wow. And so this is where the evidence is coming from this week. But is Christian Rodriguez a fake name? And I'm asking that because helping the FBI seems not to be a safe move for a cartel IT guy.

I believe it is his real name, but I will say that court artists were instructed not to draw his face in court.

We learned this week that El Chapo used this encrypted network that Rodriguez built for him to spy on his wife and girlfriends. Tell me about that.

That to me was the most bonkers part of this week. If Rodriguez's testimony is true, the FBI has essentially used El Chapo's own paranoia against him. 

He had Rodriguez install this spyware system called FlexiSPY into the phones of his wife Emma Coronel, a couple of mistresses and a bunch of other cartel associates.

Rodriguez, when he flipped, hacked into that spyware system and gave the FBI all the information that was in it. 

So in open court this week everyone heard — read out loud in kind of a surreal monotone by an FBI agent — intimate text messages between El Chapo and his wife and between El Chapo and his mistress.

Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of Joaquin Guzman, the Mexican drug lord known as 'El Chapo', arrives at the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse for the trial of Guzman, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, N.Y, on Jan. 9, 2019. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Were there texts that stand out for you just for their sheer outrageousness? 

Yes, a couple. This [one] exchange with his wife Emma, I believe it was February 2011 or 2012. There was a raid on a Los Cabos mansion where Guzmán was staying with a couple of associates. 

And there's like a pause in their conversation. And he's like, "Oh, sorry, I have to rush out." And ... he jumped out the back way and fled Mexican authorities. 

And then when he's texting his wife later, he asks her to buy him some clothes. Some sweats, underwear, five shirts, shampoo, aftershave, and the kicker —  black mustache dye.

So personal details were exposed. But these are his sexual partners — the multiple partners that he was involved with. Was that embarrassing for the people in the courtroom?

We didn't hear anything lewd but he appears to have bankrolled liposuction surgery for a mistress, Augustina Cabanillas, as well as paying for plastic surgery for his wife.

And, you know, he called them both "love." Cabanillas calls him "love" and says that she loves him. And so I think they they were intimate in that these were conversations that no one else was ever meant to see or hear.

He turned over usernames and passwords for the entire encrypted network he had built for the  Sinaloa  cartel.- Amanda Ottaway

Was there also evidence presented that El Chapo mused about arming his toddler?

Yes, so at this time his twin daughters with Emma are very young. They were born in 2011 and these texts are all from 2011, 2012. He wrote, "Our Kiki is fearless. I'm going to give her an AK-47 so she can hang with me."

Okay. So Rodriguez helped hack into the spyware that had already been installed on these phones. What else did he do to help the feds in this investigation?

He turned over usernames and passwords for the entire encrypted network he had built for the Sinaloa cartel. 

He installed a recorder to capture encrypted calls and then downloaded those calls to his personal computer and emailed those files to the FBI — hundreds of calls. He also marked which calls Guzmán was on.

You said that Rodriguez flipped the day that he was approached by U.S. law enforcement. So he would have been in a lot of trouble if he had decided not to comply? 

Yes. He is testifying on a cooperation agreement with the U.S. government. They've allowed him to keep the half-a-million dollars that El Chapo paid him.

They've also paid him an additional $480,000 [US] for his expenses and to relocate his family to the United States.

Attorneys for Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, Eduardo Balarezo and William Purpura arrive to United States District Court in Brooklyn, New York, N.Y., on Nov. 5, 2018. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

So, what does his life look like going forward at the end of this trial?

You know, he is a young guy. He seems nervous about what's ahead of him. He seems nervous about testifying, so I'm not sure. 

But he will be in witness protection likely for the rest of his life, however long that is.

That is very likely, yes. 

El Chapo's lawyers are trying to position him as a scapegoat, a fall guy, for the cartel. How does all this new information play into that defence?

Yeah, this was a tough week for the defence. One of their main arguments has been [that] this other guy — Ismael Zambada — did everything and is responsible for everything.

These calls and text messages and exchanges presented this week by the FBI agent and by Rodriguez show Guzmán communicating about the drug trafficking business. And that's tough for them to explain away.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Amanda Ottaway, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.

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