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Jury selection begins for the New York City trial of cartel leader 'El Chapo

Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera aka "El Chapo," is escorted by marines as he is presented to the media on Feb. 22, 2014, in Mexico City. Guzman will face trial in New York City, with jury selection beginning on Monday. (RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

Jury selection for the trial of Mexican cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman began in New York City on Monday.

Who is 'El Chapo'?

Guzman was the head of the Sinaloa cartel, a multibillion dollar drug trafficking operation. He took control of the cartel sometime in the early 1990s.

The nickname “El Chapo” translates roughly to “Shorty.” Despite his brutality and the many civilian murders that were committed there by his cartel, some of the poor people from his home state of Sinaloa viewed him as a sort of a local hero.

After his 2014 arrest, more than a thousand people protested for his release in Sinaloa, arguing that he had kept rival gangs from conducting kidnappings or extortion plots in their home state.

He escaped from a Mexican prison the following year through an elaborate tunnel complete with ventilation and stairs that led inside the prison itself. When he was arrested again in 2016, Mexican authorities began a policy of changing his cell periodically, to prevent a repeat of this escape.

Guzman evaded capture for years by relying on a vast network of tunnels, submarines, and trains. More than once, Mexican authorities had raided one of his houses, only to find that the cartel leader had fled through a hidden passage. He was also responsible for the creation of dozens of smuggling underneath the U.S. border, complete with small rail cars that would make it easier to transport drugs quickly.

In 2005, the DEA offered a $5 million reward for his capture.

After his Jan. 8, 2016, capture, then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch called Guzman's capture by Mexican authorities “a blow to the international drug-trafficking syndicate he is alleged to have led, a victory for the citizens of both Mexico and the United States, and a vindication of the rule of law in our countries.”

He was extradited to the United States in January 2017 and has been held in a high-security federal prison in Manhattan.

What are the charges against him?

Guzman is charged with 17 criminal counts. He was arraigned in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Authorities in New York shut down the Brooklyn Bridge and used an armed convoy to transport him safely from prison to a federal courthouse in Brooklyn, fearing that someone would try to assassinate him or free him en route.

U.S. District Court Judge Brian Cogan promised to come up with a plan that would permit the trial to proceed without closing down the bridge twice a day until it was over. One possibility could be housing Guzman inside the courthouse itself, but federal authorities have so far refused to confirm this, according to USA Today.

The names of potential jurors are being kept under wraps, but 1,000 jury duty summonses were reportedly sent out to people living in New York's Eastern Judicial District.

If convicted, he could face a life sentence. He has pleaded not guilty. Opening statements are scheduled to begin on Nov. 13.

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