One of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s key lieutenants pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to plotting to deliver heroin to Chicago.

Tomas Arevalo-Renteria, 46, faces a minimum of 10 years in prison but could be jailed for life.

Prosecutors, his lawyer and U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo all went to great lengths Wednesday to stress that Arevalo-Renteria is not cooperating with prosecutors against El Chapo, who was, until his recent capture in Mexico, the world’s most wanted felon.

Authorities are still hopeful that Guzman — the Sinaloa drug cartel’s chief, dubbed Chicago’s “Public Enemy No. 1 — will eventually be brought to Chicago to face U.S. justice.

But a gaffe by ABC7 news reporter Chuck Goudie earlier this month caused the collapse of a planned guilty plea by Arevalo-Renteria’s codefendant Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez, meaning everyone involved in the case was keen to avoid a repeat Wednesday.

Vasquez-Hernandez withdrew his plan to plead guilty after Goudie erroneously reported that he had “turned against” El Chapo. Vasquez-Hernandez’s family in Mexico went into hiding in fear of their lives after untrue rumors about his cooperation spread through the federal prison system following Goudie’s report, Vasquez-Hernandez’s lawyer, Paul Brayman, said at the time.

ABC7 removed the story from its website, but Goudie declined to admit any mistake was made.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Arevalo-Renteria spoke in Spanish, confirming through an interpreter that he was pleading guilty to a single count, and that he has no cooperation deal.

Prosecutor Thomas Shakeshaft said that the only concession the government has given to Arevalo-Renteria is an agreement not to ask for a minimum mandatory sentence of 20 years in his case.

Arevalo-Renteria still faces 10 years to life, and federal guidelines are likely to suggest a sentence of about 30 years is appropriate.

He is due to be sentenced after Vasquez-Hernandez stands trial this summer.

Increased interest in the case was sparked by the recent arrest after a decade-long manhunt of Guzman, who was indicted alongside Arevalo-Renteria and Vasquez-Hernandez in 2009, and is allegedly responsible for smuggling the majority of illegal drugs sold on Chicago’s streets.

Prosecutors say Arevalo-Renteria was nabbed with the help of the Flores brothers, two Chicagoans who travelled to Mexico and met with senior Sinaloa figures.

Email: kjanssen@suntimes.com

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