According to the Chicago Tribune, Edgar Manuel Valencia Ortega grew up in Mexico with the sons and nephews of Sinaloa cartel bosses, so when he decided to get into the drug trade himself he already had the connections to rise quickly to the top, federal prosecutors say.
In just a few short years, Ortega became a significant middleman for the feared cartel, helping to launder millions of dollars in drug proceeds between the U.S. and Mexico as well as negotiate multikilogram shipments of cocaine in Chicago and Los Angeles, according to court records.
It all ended just as quickly for Ortega, who was arrested in January 2014 while vacationing in Las Vegas and charged as part of the massive conspiracy case against Sinaloa’s top leaders, including Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
On Friday, a federal judge in Chicago sentenced Ortega, 29, to eight years in prison for his crimes, saying his actions furthered the narcotics trade that has devastated neighborhoods across the U.S.
As the judge spoke, a half dozen family members seated in the front row of the courtroom gallery nodded and wiped tears from their eyes. Ortega, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and listening to the proceedings through an interpreter, kept his head down and stared at the floor.
Before the sentence was handed down, Ortega apologized to the judge, the United States and his family for his actions. He said he was most sorry for hurting his mother, who not only had to deal with him being locked up but also with the death of his brother, Hector. He was also indicted in the case but was killed last year in an apparent drug-related murder in Mexico.
“I know that she has suffered through this in ways that I cannot imagine,” Ortega said in Spanish.
Ortega pleaded guilty in April to money laundering conspiracy. According to federal prosecutors, Ortega laundered as much as $3.5 million made from drug sales in the U.S. to Mexico over a two-year span.
He would transport the money in amounts between $50,000 and $300,000 through his associates. In one transaction, Ortega arranged for others to pick up money made from drug sales and smuggle it to Mexico, making bank deposits and using international money wiring services, according to court records.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Ferrara told the judge Friday that Ortega acted on behalf of “some of the most prolific and dangerous criminals in Mexico and the U.S.,” people responsible for bringing “poison and pain” to countless communities.
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