FALLS CHURCH, Va. – A top lieutenant to drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was sentenced in a Virginia courtroom Friday to life in prison.
Damaso Lopez, a leader in Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel, pleaded guilty in September in an Alexandria federal court to drug trafficking charges after being extradited from Mexico earlier this year.
The life sentence was expected after both sides agreed to a life term as part of a plea bargain.
In court papers, Lopez admitted he was a senior leader in the Sinaloa cartel and controlled a faction with hundreds of men. He admitted using "sicarios," or hitmen, to conduct murders to further the cartel's interest and move tons of cocaine and other drugs throughout the Americas.
Lopez's sentencing comes as Guzman is facing his own trial in New York.
It is unclear whether Lopez, Guzman's right-hand man, would be called to testify at Guzman's trial. The publicly available court documents from the plea agreement do not include a requirement for cooperation, as they usually would. But several documents in the case remain under seal.
Also, while Lopez has been sentenced to life, it is a relatively common practice at the federal courthouse in Alexandria for prosecutors to file a post-sentence motion seeking reduction of a sentence for defendants who provide substantial cooperation on other cases.
In court papers, prosecutors said the cartel generated billions of dollars in illegal profits.
"Simply put, the defendant had a leadership role in the Sinaloa Cartel, the largest and most violent drug trafficking organization in the world," prosecutors wrote. "It would be hard to imagine a more egregious drug offense."
Mexican authorities arrested Lopez — known as "El Licenciado," which is a title for college graduates — at an apartment in Mexico City last year. Authorities say that arrest led to the collapse of his faction within the cartel.
Defense attorneys did not return calls and emails seeking comment.
Lopez was also ordered to forfeit $25 million.