One of the highest-ranking female operatives under infamous Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was sentenced in Chicago on Tuesday to 10 years in federal prison for overseeing the distribution of massive shipments of narcotics to the U.S. and helping launder millions of dollars in proceeds back to Mexico.
Guadalupe Fernandez Valencia, 61, could have faced up to life in prison after pleading guilty in 2019 to one count each of narcotics trafficking and money laundering conspiracy.
Instead, she got a substantial break by helping authorities in ongoing investigations into Mexico’s drug cartels, according to prosecutors. The 10-year sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman was at the low end of the recommended federal guidelines.
Valencia, who has already been in custody for about 5 1/2 years, could be released in as little as three years.
Valencia, also known as “La Patrona,” allegedly reported directly to one of El Chapo’s sons. She was arrested in February 2016 in the northwestern city of Culiacan in the state of Sinaloa, where Guzman had been recaptured a month earlier.
She was extradited to Chicago in 2017 to face her role in a sweeping indictment against the notorious Mexican cartel that has been described as the most significant drug prosecution in Chicago’s history.
The indictment, which also named Guzman and several of his top henchmen, alleged the cartel used jumbo jets, submarines, and tunnels to smuggle massive amounts of drugs into the U.S., much of which was later distributed in wholesale quantities through a network built by Chicago twins Pedro and Margarito Flores.
Valencia’s brother, Manuel Fernandez Valencia, who was charged as part of the same overall conspiracy, was sentenced in Chicago in 2016 to 27 years in prison.
Guzman, meanwhile, was extradited to the U.S. in 2017 after he was captured in a firefight between his bodyguards and Mexican marine special forces. He was convicted in New York in February 2019 on federal charges including drug conspiracy and murder and was later sentenced to life behind bars.