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Henchman of Mexican drug lord Chapo Guzmán to be sentenced in Chicago

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman escorted to a helicopter in Mexico City on Feb. 22, 2014.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman escorted to a helicopter in Mexico City on Feb. 22, 2014.  (ap)

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

The spotlight during Alfredo Vásquez-Hernández's 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 Vásquez-Hernández and 10 others, including Guzmán and the Flores twins.

Vásquez-Hernández, 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.

Vásquez-Hernández was a close friend of Guzmán, 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.

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But defense lawyers accuse the brothers of exaggerating Vásquez-Hernández's 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. Vásquez-Hernández 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 Guzmán, Vásquez-Hernández 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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