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Reputed drug cartel member pleads guilty in US

October 2, 2014

CONCORD, New Hampshire (AP) — A cousin of one of the world’s most notorious drug lords who prosecutors say was working to expand the cartel’s reach to Europe and northern New England faces up to 20 years in prison after he pleaded guilty Thursday in New Hampshire.

Jesus Gutierrez-Guzman admitted that he planned to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of cocaine plus heroin and methamphetamine in the U.S.

Prosecutors say his cousin is Joaquin Guzman, who led the violent Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico until his arrest in February. During meetings with undercover agents, including meetings in New Hampshire, Gutierrez-Guzman said he was a direct representative of his cousin, who is known as “El Chapo.”

Gutierrez-Guzman was arrested in 2012 in Spain with two others: Samuel Zazueta Valenzuela, who has pleaded guilty, and Rafael Humberto Celaya Valenzuela, who stands trial beginning next week. Another man, Jesus Soto, pleaded guilty last month in a separate, but related, case.

Authorities said the investigation began in 2009 when a link to the cartel was discovered in Massachusetts. Undercover FBI agents posed as members of a European drug trafficking organization and met with the four men in Spain, Mexico, Miami, the Virgin Islands, Boston, Phoenix and New Hampshire several times from 2009 through 2012.

During the meetings, Gutierrez-Guzman boasted that European distribution routes would initially involve shipments of 20 tons of cocaine at a time, according to prosecutors.

In July 2011, the cartel sent test shipments of pineapples and plantains from South America to Spain, then followed up with 750 pounds (340 kilograms) of cocaine, which was intercepted by police, investigators said.

When asked by U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Laplante why he was pleading guilty, Gutierrez-Guzman, 54, paused for several moments before leaning close to a court interpreter to answer.

“I admit it but I don’t know how to explain it,” he said in a soft, high-pitched voice. During the hearing, he told Laplante he was a married father and grandfather with a second-grade education.

As part of the plea, which was translated into Spanish for him, he faces no more than 20 years in prison. He would have faced a minimum of 10 years to life. When he gets out of prison, he’ll be deported.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Feith said the plea agreement does not call for Gutierrez-Guzman to testify against others, including Joaquin Guzman if the drug lord is ever extradited to the U.S.

Joaquin Guzman escaped prison in 2001 and ran the enterprise from a series of hideouts and safe houses across Mexico, earning billions of dollars moving tons of cocaine and other drugs to the United States, prosecutors have said. He has been indicted in numerous states besides New Hampshire.

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