‘El Chapo’ henchman and alleged lifelong friend pleads guilty
BY KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter April 29, 2014 1:00PM
Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican navy marines at a navy hanger in Mexico City, Mexico, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. A senior U.S. law enforcement official said Saturday, that Guzman, the head of MexicoÌs Sinaloa Cartel, was captured alive overnight in the beach resort town of Mazatlan. Guzman faces multiple federal drug trafficking indictments in the U.S. and is on the Drug Enforcement AdministrationÌs most-wanted list. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) ORG XMIT: MXDL103
Updated: June 1, 2014 6:23AM
Another henchman in Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel has pleaded guilty in Chicago’s federal court.
Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez — who was due to stand trial next month — became the latest defendant to admit his role in the world’s largest drug-trafficking organization.
Vasquez-Hernandez, 58, originally planned to plead guilty in March, but withdrew his offer after a report by ABC7 veteran newsman Chuck Goudie incorrectly suggested he was cooperating with the feds against the feared “El Chapo,” putting his family in Mexico in fear of their lives.
On Tuesday, Vasquez-Hernandez finally did enter a guilty plea to shipping cocaine into Chicago on a train. U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo stressed that Vasquez-Hernandez, who faces 10 years to life behind bars when he is sentenced in November, is not cooperating with authorities.
Prior to his capture, Vasquez-Hernandez allegedly described himself as Guzman’s “lifelong friend.”
Prosecutors say he was one of the cartel’s logistics chiefs, and that they have him on tape discussing the importation of cocaine into Mexico from Colombia via submarine, as well as the shipments via train of hundreds of kilos of cocaine into Chicago.
The case — which saw “El Chapo” indicted in 2009 alongside 13 codefendants, including Vasquez-Hernandez — has been described as the largest drug case ever brought in Chicago.
Sinaloa cartel members supply the majority of drugs sold on the city’s streets, causing “El Chapo” to be last year dubbed Chicago’s “Public Enemy No. 1.”
He was arrested in Mexico in February. Though it remains unclear if he will ever be extradited to the U.S., or if he will stand trial in Chicago if extradited, four alleged Sinaloa cartel members charged alongside him in Chicago are known to be in U.S. custody.
Vasquez-Hernandez’s guilty plea means that only one of those four, Edgar Manuel Valencia Ortega — known as the “Fox” — has not pleaded guilty.
In their biggest coup, federal prosecutors revealed earlier this month that a high-ranking member of the cartel, Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla, has pleaded guilty and has been cooperating since last year.
Another defendant, Tomas Arevalo-Renteria, also previously pleaded guilty.
Following Tuesday’s hearing, Goudie argued with Vasquez-Hernandez’s attorneys outside court, insisting that when he said Vasquez-Hernandez had “turned against” El Chapo that did not mean he thought Vasquez-Hernandez was cooperating.
Vasquez-Hernandez’s attorney, Paul Brayman, disagreed, calling Goudie’s story a “false report” that derailed Vasquez-Hernandez’s original plan to plead guilty by putting his family in danger.