Here’s why El Chapo isn’t being held in Brooklyn

Get Shorty: El Chapo could be tried in Brooklyn
Associated Press / Rebecca Blackwell

Brooklyn can’t hold El Chapo.

That’s the message the Feds sent when they decided to keep slippery Sinaloa drug cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in a Manhattan lockup rather than a Brooklyn jail — even though he’s standing trial in Downtown Brooklyn’s federal court on a blockbuster, 17-count international drug-trafficking indictment.

Then again, Sunset Park’s Metropolitan Detention Center — where El Chapo would likely have stayed had he been kept in the Borough of Kings — may not be the best place for an escape-artist who bribed guards to roll him out of Mexican jail in a laundry cart and later escaped another south-of-the-border lockup via a mile-long tunnel, according to an ex-con who did time in the Brooklyn detention center twice and said the jailhouse is full of security holes.

“For the New York dudes that did time there, they always spoke very highly — it’s sweet, wide open,” said Seth Ferranti, a jailbird-turned-author who did a pair of two-week stints in Brooklyn while in transit between prisons in the 1990s. “It’s a lot of activity of people coming in and out — so there’s a lot of hustling.”

Contraband, that is.

That was back in the rough-and-tumble ’90s, but the high-security behemoth is apparently quite accommodating, even nowadays.

Notorious convicted cop-killer Ronell Wilson knocked up his guard after multiple trysts while doing time in 2013, and Brooklyn Federal judge Nicholas Garaufis ordered a formal investigation into the Sunset Park slammer after determining Wilson was “permitted to treat the MDC as his own private fiefdom.”

Reps from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which runs the detention center, say they have tightened security.

“In order to mitigate life-endangering consequences of dangerous contraband introduction for both staff and inmates, including cellphones, weapons, and narcotics, BOP has deployed a number of new strategies and enhanced existing practices,” spokesman Justin Long said.

But even if the jail’s guards were impregnable, the ground it sits on is not.

Feds crowed that El Chapo will “face American justice in a city that’s foundation is bedrock,” during a press conference announcing his extradition to the U.S.

That’s true for the Manhattan lock-up — but Sunset Park sits atop a squishy mix of dirt and rocks deposited there by a glacier 15,000 years ago — not the tough-as-nails bedrock that Manhattan sits on, according to a local geologist.

“Manhattan bedrock extends into Brooklyn, but that’s up more toward Flatbush Avenue Extension,” said Brooklyn College chief geology lab tech Guillermo Rocha.

The earth beneath Brooklyn’s jail at Second Avenue and 30th Street — a two-minute walk from the Gowanus Bay — is all “sediment and boulders,” he said.

A judge recently ruled that the kingpin could physically come to the Kings County courthouse, which will likely require the temporary, partial closure of the Brooklyn Bridge while U.S. Marshals transport him to and from trial.

Reach deputy editor Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
On lock?: The Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park may look like a fortress, but former inmates, geologists, and even judges say it has vulnerabilities that El Chapo could exploit.
Federal Bureau of Prisons