The story of the precipitous fall of Guatemala’s once-feared drug trafficker Waldemar Lorenzana may now include Alzheimer’s.
At one time lauded for his connections in the highest circles of power in Guatemala, Lorenzana, alias “the Patriarch,” waddled into a Washington DC federal court on February 26, in a bright orange prison jumpsuit with an unshaven, expressionless face. He then sat silently in his chair and listened via a set of court-issued headphones as the judge and his lawyers talked about his mental health as if he was not even in the room.
“I don’t think he’s competent enough to make some decisions,” presiding Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said.
One of Lorenzana’s lawyers, Joaquin Perez, echoed these concerns, saying his client did not recognize him when he visited with him in the days prior to the hearing even though he’d been representing him for close to a year following Lorenzana’s extradition in March 2014 to face drug charges.
Lorenzana’s exact condition has not yet been diagnosed. A preliminary evaluation by a clinical psychologist, portions of which were read aloud by the judge, said Lorenzana was “depressed” and showed signs of “poor concentration and confusion.”
The judge, the prosecution and the defense agreed to submit Lorenzana to a more extensive battery of medical exams at a local mental institution, the results of which would be revealed in court in April.
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Lorenzana was a towering figure in the Guatemalan underworld for decades, supplying the Sinaloa Cartel and others with drugs he moved through Guatemala. (See US Treasury Department’s chart of the Lorenzana organization below) But in the United States, he’s seen as a small-time trafficker.
The judge — although sympathetic to Lorenzana’s mental state — called him “Lorenzano” throughout the hearing. Lorenzana did not speak.
Lorenzana’s incredibly quick slide into what his lawyer called the onset of Alzheimer’s is a sign of a destitute and broken man, Perez said. That slide, according to the judge and his lawyers, happened shortly after he’d arrived in the US last year and may have impacted his decision to plead guilty to drug trafficking charges in August 2014.
For the Lorenzana family, it may only get worse. Lorenzana’s son, Waldemar Jr., was extradited to the US in November. (Much of the hearing centered on opening the way for a father-son reunion.) Another son, Eliu, is on the docket to be extradited in the coming weeks. All of them face drug trafficking charges in the United States.
The family empire — which once controlled the lucrative eastern border entry-point for illegal drugs and contraband — now seems destined to enter the ether of the US legal system.
In the case of Waldemar, the ending appears near — he has already pleaded guilty and, pending his diagnosis, is facing a fairly severe sentence that will likely leave the 74-year-old behind bars for the rest of his life. His mental state will make it impossible for him to cooperate with US authorities and lower his sentence, his lawyers stated during the hearing.
The same cannot be said for his sons. Waldemar Jr. and Eliu seem poised to cooperate with US authorities. In all likelihood, those cases will be sealed but the processes may drag on for years.