One of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s alleged key lieutenants backed out of his plans to plead guilty in federal court Friday after an inaccurate report by ABC7 News reporter Chuck Goudie may have put his family at risk, the defendant’s attorney said.
Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez indicated last week that he would plead guilty to drug trafficking charges under a “blind plea,” an indication that he was not cooperating with prosecutors against Guzman’s powerful Sinaloa cartel.
But Goudie — who was not in court — incorrectly broadcast later that evening that Vasquez-Hernandez had “turned against El Chapo,” the cartel’s billionaire boss who was recently captured in Mexico.
The veteran newsman’s blunder put Vasquez-Hernandez in fear of his family in Mexico’s safety, and he withdrew his offer to plead guilty and will now proceed to trial, his attorney Paul Brayman said Friday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Shakeshaft called Goudie’s error, “an unfortunate piece of journalism.”
“The defendant has no plan to cooperate with the government,” Brayman told U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo. “That was not true.
“He does not intend to testify against anyone, ever.”
Brayman said untrue rumors about Vasquez-Hernandez’s cooperation spread quickly through the Metropolitan Correctional Center and back to Mexico after Goudie’s broadcast, forcing Vasquez-Hernandez’s wife and children into hiding.
Speaking outside court, he said he had reached out to Goudie, who corrected the story online but “refused to go back on television and [correct] it as a news item.”
Brayman said Goudie told him he didn’t believe his report had given the impression Vasquez-Hernandez was cooperating against Guzman, an argument Brayman called “nonsense.”
Neither Goudie nor his bosses at ABC responded to requests for comment Friday.
The development was a setback in the government’s case against Vasquez-Hernandez, who allegedly coordinated shipments of tons of cocaine into Mexico and multiple kilos into the U.S.
Increased interest in the case was sparked by the recent arrest after a decade-long manhunt of Guzman, who was indicted alongside Vasquez-Hernandez in 2009, and is allegedly responsible for smuggling the majority of illegal drugs sold on Chicago’s streets.
Chicago Drug Enforcement Administration boss Jack Riley told the Sun-Times last month that he’d be pushing for Guzman, who has also been indicted in other jurisdictions and still faces Mexican justice, to be tried in Chicago, though Mexican officials are in no rush to extradite him and other U.S. jurisdictions are also keen to try him.
The gray-haired Vasquez-Hernandez, 58, wore an orange Bureau of Prisons jumpsuit and leg shackles in court Friday, silently following proceedings via an interpreter.
Prior to his capture, he allegedly described himself as Guzman’s “lifelong friend.” He will now stand trial alongside another alleged Sinaloa trafficker in May.
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.
Castillo on Friday rejected his request that his case be heard in a bench trial, ruling that Vasquez-Hernandez will be tried by jury, as previously planned.
Contributing: Art Golab