Lawsuit alleges cartel member moved to Colorado Supermax to make him talk about 'El Chapo'
Marco Paredes-Machado claims he was classified as a member of the ISIS terrorist group to justify moving him to the maximum-security prison
By Kieran Nicholson
The Denver Post
DENVER — A man described in court documents as being in “middle management” of a drug cartel this week sued the U.S. Justice Department, claiming his imprisonment in Colorado’s Supermax prison is a sham, a “torturous” attempt to make him talk about drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and a violation of his First Amendment rights.
The lawsuit also alleges the U.S. falsely claimed Marco Paredes-Machado was a member of the ISIS terrorist group in order to justify moving him to the maximum-security prison in Florence.
“The United States Constitution prohibits the use of torture to coerce an individual to talk. Yet this is exactly what the government did to Marco Paredes-Machado,” attorneys wrote in the 45-page complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Denver.
The lawsuit, which seeks a jury trial, alleges Paredes-Machado was tortured in January of 2011 by Mexican authorities — in Mexico at a “black site” — on behalf of the U.S. government, including being beaten and waterboarded.
Paredes-Machado is described in the lawsuit as a “plaza boss,” akin to a regional distribution manager, or middle management, for the cartel.
“Plaza bosses do, however, have access to organizational information,” according to the lawsuit, filed by the Frank Law Office LLC of Denver. “The acquisition of information from the middle echelons of a cartel’s hierarchy is a significant part of intelligence gathering for U.S. drug investigations.”
On Nov. 9, 2005, the United States charged Paredes-Machado with conspiracy to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms (2,204 pounds) of marijuana. The charge was made to extradite Paredes-Machado to the United States and “extract intelligence,” make him talk, about the Sinaloa Cartel, according to the lawsuit.
It took about six years for him to be brought into custody in Mexico, where he was held until Sept. 9, 2015, when he was extradited to the United States to face the drug conspiracy charge.
On Sept. 30, 2019, Paredes-Machado pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute more than 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of cocaine and 1,000 kilograms of marijuana for importation. He was sentenced, on Feb. 5, 2020, to 22 years in prison.
Before the plea, Paredes-Machado was held at a low-security prison in the United States. After entering the plea, Craig Wininger, an assistant U.S. attorney, emailed Paredes-Machado inquiring whether he would talk to the government about cartel “violence occurring on or near the border.”
Paredes-Machado agreed to meet Wininger and Seth Gilmore, with the Justice Department’s narcotics and dangerous drugs section, on the condition that they’d meet in Detroit, where he was being held, according to the complaint. Paredes-Machado was scheduled to be transferred to a Bureau of Prisons facility near Tucson, and he feared that if the meeting was in Arizona, cartel members would find out “and would violently retaliate against him and his family.”
Through an attorney, Paredes-Machado agreed to speak only about another cartel, La Linea, and not the Sinaloa Cartel to which he belonged.
The meeting didn’t take place and instead Wininger and Gilmore, who are named as defendants in the lawsuit, “created, coordinated and executed a plan” to have Paredes-Machado transferred to the Administrative Maximum U.S. Penitentiary, or ADX, in Florence, also known as Supermax.
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Completed in 1994, Supermax — known as the Alcatraz of the Rockies — is the nation’s highest security prison, where most of its 400-plus inmates are alone for 23 hours a day in 7-by-12-foot reinforced concrete cells. Prisoners eat all meals in their cells, and most cells have a shower and a toilet, minimizing the need for inmates to leave.
“The goal of this plan was to establish maximum leverage for the government before the meeting to coerce Mr. Paredes-Machado into revealing information in exchange for a chance at release from the torture that is confinement at ADX,” the complaint said.
The Bureau of Prisons is also named a respondent in the lawsuit.
The complaint alleges the government at first falsely identified Paredes-Machado as a member of the ISIS terrorist organization to justify moving him to Supermax. The lawsuit claims a hearing officer then instead amended a report with “false allegations” identifying Paredes-Machado as a “notorious” cartel member, “second only to Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman,” the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel who is imprisoned at Supermax.
At the time of his drug conviction sentencing, Paredes-Machado had no previous criminal history, he was classified as a low-security prisoner, and he was not written up for any disciplinary sanctions while in custody in the United States or Mexico, according to the lawsuit.
The Bureau of Prisons transferred Parades-Machado to ADX on or about March 15, 2021.
On June 3, 2021, Paredes-Machado agreed to talk with the U.S. government after he was imprisoned “in the country’s most restrictive facility,” the complaint said.
“In so doing, defendants violated Mr. Paredes-Machado’s First Amendment right not to be coerced into waiving his First Amendment right not to speak to the government about events that took place outside the prison walls,” according to the filing. “At ADX, Mr. Paredes-Machado ultimately agreed to hear out the government. Nevertheless, he remains incarcerated at ADX.”
No other cartel “plaza bosses” with drug convictions are serving sentences at ADX, according to the complaint.