Another onetime lieutenant in the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera pleaded guilty Wednesday in a federal court in Chicago, agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors.
Guadalupe Fernandez Valencia, 58, pleaded guilty to drug and money-laundering conspiracies, breaking down in tears early in the hearing after Chief U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo began to question her about her background.
Fernandez Valencia said she once worked in factories but started dealing drugs after she became pregnant. Speaking through an interpreter, she told the judge she had five children and that her husband was “no good to me.”
Fernandez Valencia faces a potential life sentence, though federal prosecutors are expected to recommend about 10 to 15 years in prison if she cooperates with them. Castillo did not schedule a sentencing hearing Wednesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Erika Csicsila said Fernandez Valencia helped move 3,500 pounds of marijuana into the United States between 2009 and 2010 and around the same time also smuggled 30 kilograms of cocaine into the country weekly.
Though she stopped temporarily after the arrest of her brother Manuel Fernandez Valencia, she began to again sell cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines between 2012 and 2014, smuggling drugs in vehicles and tunnels from Tijuana, Mexico, into the United States.
Csicsila said Fernandez Valencia also smuggled drug money from Los Angeles to Guadalajara, Mexico, through currency exchanges that took a 3 % cut of the money she moved.
Fernandez Valencia had been charged along with El Chapo and others in a sweeping indictment in Chicago. El Chapo was prosecuted in Brooklyn, where he was convicted earlier this year and likely faces a life sentence.
Last month, Castillo handed a 15-year prison sentence to Vicente “El Vicentillo” Zambada-Niebla, the Sinaloa cartel’s onetime logistics guru who testified against “El Chapo.” Zambada-Niebla’s sentencing hearing in Chicago prompted heavy security around the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.
Zambada-Niebla coordinated trains, ships, submarines and even Boeing 747s as they moved cocaine and heroin from South America to Mexico for El Chapo. He also supervised Pedro Flores and Margarito Flores, twin brothers who brought up to 2,000 kilograms of cocaine a month into Chicago and other major U.S. cities.
In April, Sinaloa lieutenant Jesus Raul Beltran Leon also pleaded guilty in Chicago to drug conspiracy, admitting his role in the sale of 46 kilograms of cocaine sold in Los Angeles in June 2013.
Beltran Leon, who did not reach a deal with prosecutors, also faces a maximum of life in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 5.