Organized Crime

US judge in Chicago to sentence reputed lieutenant of Mexican drug lord 'El Chapo' Guzman

FILE - This Feb. 22, 2014 file photo shows Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, being escorted to a helicopter in Mexico City following his capture overnight in the beach resort town of Mazatlan. On Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, at federal court in Chicago, a U.S. judge sentenced Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez, a reputed lieutenant of Guzman, to 22 years in prison for his role in a $1 billion trafficking conspiracy, saying the stiff sentence should send a message to traffickers everywhere. The case is regarded as one of the U.S. government's most important against Mexican cartels. Guzman remains jailed in Mexico and Mexican authorities haven't said if they might extradite him to Chicago. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo, File)

FILE - This Feb. 22, 2014 file photo shows Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, being escorted to a helicopter in Mexico City following his capture overnight in the beach resort town of Mazatlan. On Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, at federal court in Chicago, a U.S. judge sentenced Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez, a reputed lieutenant of Guzman, to 22 years in prison for his role in a $1 billion trafficking conspiracy, saying the stiff sentence should send a message to traffickers everywhere. The case is regarded as one of the U.S. government's most important against Mexican cartels. Guzman remains jailed in Mexico and Mexican authorities haven't said if they might extradite him to Chicago. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo, File)  (The Associated Press)

A reputed lieutenant of captured Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman was to be sentenced Monday for his part in a $1 billion conspiracy to traffic narcotics to Chicago and cities.

The spotlight during Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez' sentencing in federal court in Chicago will be on the credibility of two Sinaloa cartel associates-turned-star government witnesses, Pedro and Margarito Flores.

Evidence provided by the twin brothers in 2008 led to the Chicago indictments of Hernandez and 10 others, including Guzman and the Flores twins. Hernandez, 58, of Mexico, is the first up for sentencing.

He pleaded guilty to possessing drugs with intent to distribute and faces a mandatory minimum 10-year prison term. He could receive far more time if the judge determines he was a key player in the cartel.

Hernandez was a close friend of Guzman, finessing his logistical skills to ship tons of heroin and cocaine by train from Mexico to Chicago concealed in bogus furniture cargo, according to the Flores brothers.

But defense lawyers accuse the brothers of exaggerating Hernandez' rank in the cartel to curry favor with U.S. prosecutors and ensure the lowest possible prison terms for themselves.

"The Flores brothers ... have every incentive to throw Mr. Vasquez-Hernandez under the proverbial bus," defense attorneys said in one recent filing.

The twins sought to hoodwink federal agents even after they agreed to cooperate, they allege.

Federal documents allege the twins — while behind bars working with the feds — had someone hide up to $2.5 million in cash. They also allegedly bought a $100,000 Bentley as a gift for Pedro Flores' wife.

The Flores brothers cut deals with Guzman, Hernandez and others in the Sinaloa cartel around to distribute drugs in the United States with Chicago as the operational hub, prosecutors allege.

The Flores brothers claimed they sold up to two tons of cocaine a month in Chicago alone by 2007. They also supplied eight other cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

In statements unsealed recently, the Flores brothers say they know assassins would try to kill them and their families if the cartel ever discovered where they are being held in protective custody.

Another defendant jailed in Chicago, Vicente Zambada, claimed in 2011 that the U.S. granted Sinaloa figures immunity to traffic drugs in exchange for intelligence on rival cartels. A federal judge ruled there was no evidence to support that claim.

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