Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez says he's never even met Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, let alone served in Guzman's notorious Sinaloa drug cartel.
But federal prosecutors in Chicago allege Vasquez-Hernandez, also known as "Alfredo Compadre," was a boyhood friend of the captured Mexican drug lord who rose to be a trusted lieutenant, coordinating the importation of hundreds of tons of narcotics via speed boat, jumbo jets and even submarines.
Charged in 2009 in what has been called the most significant drug case in Chicago history, Vasquez-Hernandez entered a "blind" plea of guilty Tuesday to one count of conspiracy to distribute narcotics, meaning he has not worked out an agreement with prosecutors on his sentencing.
The development came two months after Vasquez-Hernandez abruptly backed out of pleading guilty because an erroneous Chicago television news report implied he was cooperating against his infamous boss, raising concerns about his family's safety in Mexico. He had been scheduled to go on trial on May 12.
Vasquez-Hernandez, 58, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, listened through a Spanish interpreter Tuesday as prosecutors reiterated several times to U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo that he was not cooperating with law enforcement. He faces from 10 years to life in prison when he is sentenced in November.
After court, Vazquez-Hernandez's attorney, Arturo Hernandez, said that despite the guilty plea, his client has "said all along he does not know Chapo."
Vasquez-Hernandez, who told Castillo he'd worked in the past as an auto painter in Los Angeles, admitted in a 12-page plea declaration to arranging the sale of millions of dollars worth of cocaine with twin brother Pedro and Margarito Flores, Chicago drug dealers who ended up cooperating with U.S. drug agents.
The Flores brothers secretly recorded a key 2008 meeting in Mexico that captured Vasquez-Hernandez detailing how Guzman's vast operation used a fleet of jumbo jets to fly narcotics from South and Central America into Mexico, according to a prosecution filing.
Vasquez-Hernandez explained that the seats had been removed from the 747s in order to load up the jets with up to 13 tons of drugs -- worth hundreds of millions of dollars on the streets of Chicago, the filing said.
Earlier this month, prosecutors revealed that Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla, the highest-ranking Sinaloa cartel member ever arrested on U.S. charges, secretly pleaded guilty in Chicago last year and has been cooperating with authorities. While the impact of his cooperation remains unclear, it could boost the efforts of federal authorities to have Guzman -- who remains in custody in Mexico following his sensational February arrest -- extradited to Chicago to stand trial.
With Vasquez-Hernandez pleading guilty, only one defendant has pending charges in the Chicago case-- reputed Sinaloa associate Edgar Manuel Valencia Ortega, nicknamed "the Fox," who was arrested in Las Vegas in January.
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