Retired General Salvador Cienfuegos, former Secretary of National Defense (Sedena), pleaded “not guilty” through his lawyer, Edward Sapone, to the charges against him after a virtual hearing in the Brooklyn Court, in New York.
Judge Steven Gold suggested that the 70 days that the prosecution has to take Cienfuegos to trial, begin on November 18, when the presentation of The Godfather (name by which the former official is also known in the accusation) with the judge handling his case, Carol Amon.
The defense asked these weeks to speak with the prosecution and review the evidence they have to weigh the possibility of going to trial. When the judge asked Cienfuegos if he agreed with this delay, the general replied that he did not, which led the defense to ask the judge to repeat the question. In doing so for the third time, the accused finally shook his head indicating that he agreed.
Before the short hearing ended, lawyer Sapone told the judge that he had reviewed “the formal accusation,” and insisted that his client “understands the charges and pleads not guilty.”
On the part of the government, Ryan Harris was the one who confirmed that Cienfuegos’ first appearance before Judge Carol Amon is on November 18 at 10 in the morning.
Previously, Judge Amon had suspended the Mexican military’s hearing because the reporters did not silence their phones and threatened to cancel the process, carry it out privately and then make the recording public.
During the few minutes that the meeting lasted, the voice of General Cienfuegos could be heard saying: “I need a little more volume,” when asked if he could hear and understand the charges against him.
Accused of four counts in the Federal Court of the Eastern District of New York (EDNY), the retired general is being held in the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), located in West Brooklyn, on the banks of the Hudson River.
In that prison there are also other Mexicans with ongoing processes in this city, such as Genaro García Luna and Iván Reyes Arzate. Also there is the leader of NXIVM, Keith Raniere, awaiting transfer to a federal prison after being sentenced to 120 years in prison on October 27.
In other times, Salvadoran gang members from the Mara Salvatrucha and the Rendón Reyes gang, white traffickers from Tlaxcala who were convicted in 2019, were imprisoned in the west building, where only women sleep, the actress from Smalville, Allison Mack, linked to the NXIVM case, and at this moment there is Guislaine Maxwell, partner and accomplice of Jeffrey Epstein, who apparently committed suicide in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in lower Manhattan.
The MDC was opened in the early 90’s with the intention of freeing a part of the overcrowding of inmates that at that time was living in the CCM, a prison in which Joaquín remained. El Chapo Guzmán since his arrival in New York in January 2017 and until the day his life sentence was issued in July 2019.
The Brooklyn jail that Cienfuegos has just arrived at is located in the Greenwood Heights neighborhood and those with open processes at EDNY are generally interned there. Initially planned to house 1,000 inmates, official numbers indicate that there are currently more than 1,700.
The Brooklyn MDC has received a lot of criticism in the years it has been operating, especially for the behavior of its custodians. In 2015, a federal judge filed a lawsuit by Muslim inmates who alleged they had been subjected to arbitrary abuses such as beatings and isolation.
In February 2019, inmates who went on a hunger strike to claim a blackout that left them without heating for a week, were subjected to harassment such as receiving pepper spray or having the valves of the toilets closed in their cells.
Weeks after that conflict, Cameron Lindsay, a guard who worked there for nearly a decade, told the New York Times that the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center was perhaps “the most problematic of prisons” in the US prison system.
With information from: Rubén Mosso, José Antonio Belmont and Norma Ponce.