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Alleged right-hand man to cartel leader was entrapped, lawyer says

(FILE) JoaquGuzman LoerKnown as 'El Chapo' is pictured July 10 1993 LPalmprisAlmoloyJuarez Mexico after being apprehended by authorities. Mexico lives

(FILE) Joaquin Guzman Loera, Known as "El Chapo" is pictured on July 10, 1993 at La Palma prison in Almoloya of Juarez, Mexico after being apprehended by the authorities. Mexico lives whipped by a war among drug cartels that dispute their place locally and the trafficking to the United States with unusual ferocity and sophisticated arms on June 11, 2008. Executed, beheaded, tied and tortured bodies with messages against rival bands, or threatened police and street announcements are part of the geography of violence in several states of Mexico. In the course of the year, there were at least 1,378 deaths, 47% more than in the same period in 2007. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

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Updated: November 11, 2012 6:19AM

He’s accused of being the right-hand man to the world’s biggest and most-feared drug dealer, reputed Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

But attorneys for Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez Tuesday described him as the law-abiding former owner of a Los Angeles body shop, saying he was entrapped by crooked government witnesses.

Vasquez-Hernandez, 57, has been in federal custody in Chicago since finally losing a long extradition battle in Mexico last week.

Wearing an orange Bureau of Prisons-issue jumpsuit, the slight, grey-haired man prosecutors say is known to other high-level dealers as “Alfredo Compadre” followed proceedings in court Tuesday through an interpreter, entering a not-guilty plea to six drug conspiracy charges in connection with the Sinaloa cartel’s multi-billion dollar heroin and cocaine business.

Prosecutors allege he coordinated the importation of tons of cocaine into the U.S. for the cartel. But speaking outside court, his attorney Arturo Hernandez said Vasquez-Hernandez was “completely innocent.”

Two reputed cocaine dealers who are likely to be the key government witnesses in the case, Pedro and Margarito Flores, “went down [to Mexico] to entrap people because they were in trouble with the law,” Hernandez said, claiming that Vasquez-Hernandez knows only two of the 11 codefendants he’s indicted alongside.

“He was in the country legally for 20 years, with no arrests, not even a failure to pay a parking ticket,” Hernandez said. “He had a body shop in Los Angeles.”

Along with codefendants Jesus Vincente Zambada-Niebla — described as the son of one of Mexico’s biggest drug kingpins — and Tomas Arevalo-Renteria, Vasquez-Hernandez is likely to stand trial next summer.

Judge Ruben Castillo said he wants to set a trial date soon, even though a fourth defendant, Felipe Sarabia, is still fighting extradition and Guzman and other defendants are still at large in Mexico.

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