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High-ranking member of El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel gets 10 years after ‘substantial assistance’ to feds

Guadalupe Fernandez Valencia offered a tearful apology to her family and the judge, saying, ‘I wish I could find the words to convince you of how sorry I am.’

Now-imprisoned Sinaloa cartel drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera.
Now-imprisoned Sinaloa cartel drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera.
AP file

A federal judge in Chicago handed a 10-year prison sentence Tuesday to a high-ranking player in the Sinaloa drug cartel who once helped smuggle significant amounts of drugs into the United States but later offered crucial assistance to prosecutors.

Before learning her sentence, Guadalupe Fernandez Valencia made a tearful apology to her family and to U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman, telling the judge through an interpreter, “I wish I could find the words to convince you of how sorry I am.”

“I want to take advantage of this opportunity to ask forgiveness from my children and from my family,” said Fernandez Valencia, 60, dressed in orange jail garb and speaking through a white face mask in Coleman’s courtroom.

Coleman said that 10 years is a punishment “of some consequence” given Fernandez Valencia’s age. The judge also called the Sinaloa cartel once led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera an “evil enterprise.”

But prosecutors said Valencia wound up offering “substantial assistance” to the U.S. government — though the details have been filed with the judge under seal.

Coleman said Fernandez Valencia’s cooperation came at risk to her own life and her children’s lives.

Fernandez Valencia pleaded guilty more than two years ago to drug and money-laundering conspiracies, breaking down in tears after then-Chief U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo questioned her about her background.

She told Castillo she once worked in factories but started dealing drugs after she became pregnant. Speaking through an interpreter, she told Castillo she had five children and that her husband was “no good to me.”

Fernandez Valencia helped smuggle 3,500 pounds of marijuana into the United States between 2009 and 2010 and around the same time also moved an average of 30 kilograms of cocaine weekly to customers around Los Angeles, according to her 2019 plea agreement.

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, paying people to smuggle drugs in vehicles and tunnels from Tijuana, Mexico, into the United States.

Fernandez Valencia also moved 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” Guzman and others in a sweeping indictment in Chicago. Guzman was prosecuted in Brooklyn and sentenced to life in prison.