Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán (R) (ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images.)
MEXICO CITY — The sentencing of Guadalupe Fernández Valencia, known as “La Patrona” or “the Boss,” in a Chicago court Tuesday put one of the highest-ranking women in the Sinaloa Cartel behind bars—but only for three more years than she’s already served.
Fernández Valencia, who was a fundamental and powerful player in the Sinaloa Cartel, could have faced a life sentence. The light prison time is due to what prosecutors described as her “substantial” cooperation behind closed doors on other investigations.
Fernández Valencia worked for years as the right-hand woman of Jesus Alfredo Guzmán Salazar or “Alfredillo”—Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s son—as a central player in the Sinaloa Cartel. She moved tons of drugs to the United States between 2009 and 2014, then laundered the proceeds to cities around Mexico, according to U.S. prosecutors.
“I want to take advantage of this opportunity to ask forgiveness from my children and from my family,” Fernández Valencia reportedly said during her sentencing hearing yesterday, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter. “I wish I could find the words to convince you of how sorry I am.”
Although her name is virtually unknown to the general public, she was the only woman named on the indictment that helped send El Chapo to prison for life. She was arrested in Culiacan, Sinaloa in February 2016—a month after El Chapo was arrested for the final time—and she’s been in U.S. custody since she was extradited in November 2017.
In 2019, she pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and money laundering charges in Chicago, avoiding a trial and offering information to U.S. investigators. Due to time served both in Mexico and the United States, as well as her good behavior in custody, she only has around three years left to serve on the 10-year sentence she received this week, VICE World News learned.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman said during the hearing that Fernández Valencia’s cooperation came at risk to her own life and that of her children. The whereabouts of her five children are unknown.
“The huge reduction in sentence is a recognition that Fernández Valencia placed herself and her family at great risk by providing substantial assistance against a man some say was the most violent trafficker in the world,” said Bonnie Klapper, a criminal lawyer who has represented a number of high-profile female drug traffickers.
Fernández Valencia spent some three decades of her life in the drug trade. It wasn’t until 2009 that she started working for the Sinaloa Cartel, along with her brother Manuel, to move cocaine from Mexico into American cities like Los Angeles. At that point, she was already well-connected in the U.S.—Fernández Valencia migrated from Mexico to California as a young woman and began dealing drugs in the 1990s, according to prosecutors.
She was convicted of drug trafficking in California in 1998, according to court documents, and served a 10-year sentence before being deported back to Mexico in 2007. She vowed to stop dealing, prosecutors said at the time, but was soon back in the business.
Fernández Valencia could again be vulnerable to deportation once she finishes her sentence. If she is sent back to Mexico after having collaborated with law enforcement and provided information on investigations into other members of the Sinaloa Cartel, it is very possible she could be killed.
Many of her former criminal associates remain at large, including El Chapo’s son Alfredillo and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, a Sinaloa Cartel founder and drug-trafficking heavyweight, who has never been arrested.