Edgar Valencia Ortega quickly rose from gopher to international money launderer inside Mexico’s notorious Sinaloa drug cartel.
But Ortega had an edge — he and his siblings grew up with the children of the Sinaloa’s upper echelon, his attorneys say.
“Mr. Valencia Ortega’s social circle … set him apart from other ‘entry level’ criminals,” defense attorney Lisa Wood wrote in a memo late last week to U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo.
Ortega, 29, is set to be sentenced Friday by Castillo. He pleaded guilty to a money laundering conspiracy in April. Ortega laundered between $1.5 million and $3.5 million to Mexico for the cartel led by notorious imprisoned drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, federal prosecutors say.
The feds want Castillo to sentence Ortega to more than 11 years in prison. They say Ortega laundered millions in drug proceeds to Mexico, taking a commission on each transaction. One courier was caught with $149,050 in May 2013, according to prosecutors.
Ortega also took a commission while brokering cocaine deals, the feds say. After he helped negotiate a June 2013 deal with a customer in Los Angeles, 41 kilograms of cocaine and $325,000 were seized from a courier tasked with delivering the drugs. The feds seized 93 kilograms of cocaine in September 2013 while they said Ortega was in the midst of another deal.
Born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, Ortega hopes to serve out his prison sentence in his native country. He was arrested while vacationing in the United States. His lawyers say he admitted to his crimes immediately, and they’ve asked the judge for a light sentence.
“Mr. Valencia Ortega and his siblings grew up with the children of high level Sinaloa cartel members,” Wood wrote. “This social circle provided Mr. Valencia Ortega access to individuals engaged in large scale criminal activity relatively quickly — much more quickly, at least, than someone without such a network. It also provided him with credibility that outsiders did not have.”