Sloppy Reporting Torpedoes Vasquez-Hernandez Plea

On Feb. 26, Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez announced in court he would plead guilty without a plea agreement in the Chicago case in which Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla are co-defendants. In court yesterday, his lawyer announced he had changed his mind and wants to go to trial in May after all.

Why? A local ABC News affiliate reporter named Chuck Goudie had erroneously reported on TV that Vasquez-Hernandez had turned against Chapo. The inmates at the jail saw it and word spread to Mexico, where VH's wife and children live. Vasquez Herandez would rather go to trial than potentially put their lives in jeopardy.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Shakeshaft called Goudie’s error, “an unfortunate piece of journalism.”


The affiliate has now pulled Goudie's report and in an updated video and article , Goudie denied he had said Vasquez Hernandez was cooperating, but admitted he said Vasquez-Herandez had "turned against" Chapo. What's the difference?

The attorney for Alfredo Vasquez Hernandez announced last week that Hernandez was going to enter a guilty plea. We reported that by pleading guilty Hernandez was turning against his co-defendant El Chapo Guzman-currently in custody in Mexico.

....The I-Team never reported that Alfredo Hernandez was cooperating against El Chapo or that he was going to testify against El Chapo.

What other meaning does "turn against" have? Since when does pleading guilty equate with turning against codefendants? Goudie then changes the subject and points out that no actual threats have been received. As if that absolves his misreporting.

I've been reading the Mexican, Colombian and Latin American news articles about the intended plea since the announcement, and haven't seen one that omitted the fact that Vasquez-Herandez was not cooperating. Every report I've seen clearly stated that this was not a cooperation plea and his decision to plead had nothing to do with the recent Chapo arrest. Goudie is the only one who reported Vasquez-Hernandez had turned against Chapo.

As to Vasquez-Herandez, who will now go to trial in May unless the revelation of Goudie's misreporting convinces his former associates he's not a threat, the Government claims in various pleadings: he is a big fish with connections to Chapo's Colombian suppliers, that he was in charge of logistics for transporting many tons of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, that he provided the train cars that hauled the cocaine from Mexico to the U.S., and from Los Angeles to Chicago and other cities, and that he moved money for Chapo back to Mexico, and that he had been working for Chapo since at least 2001. The Indictment only charges him in two conspiracy counts -- there are no counts charging him with substantive crimes on specific dates.

The expected testimony against Vasquez-Hernandez is mostly from cooperators, including the Flores twins, a Flores underling named Cesar Perez for whom the Government sought a whopping 66% sentence reduction, and two individuals referred to by the Government as CW-A and CW-B, who will provide "Rule 404(b)" evidence about prior bad acts dating to 2001 and 2002, three years before the beginning of the charged conspiracy. The Flores twins recorded a meeting with Vasquez-Herandez at which upcoming deals were discussed but apparently there is no physical evidence such as photos or drug seizures to tie Vasquez-Hernandez to any specific drug transport.

According to Vasquez-Herandez's lawyer, CW-A and CW-B are brothers who are cooperating for reduced sentences, having been indicted in both the District of Columbia and Southern District of New York. Both said they lost touch with him after 2002.

The U.S. Treasury added Vasquez-Hernandez to the designated kingpin list in 2011. While he was arrested in Mexico in 2011 and extradited to Chicago, his lawyers say he had lived in U.S. for 20 years, owned an auto body shop and had never even gotten a parking ticket.

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  • Display: Sort:
    That's not how the drug world works (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by Alexei Schacht on Mon Mar 10, 2014 at 10:40:17 AM EST
    Mikado Cat is wrong that "snitches" get hurt in the general population. In Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities, where almost all big drug dealers are (the states almost never prosecute really large-scale drug dealers), many if not most inmates in general population are informants.

    This is because the Federal Sentencing Guidelines system and the elimination of parole in Federal Court causes people to get very long prison sentences and seriously encourages cooperation as the only viable way of getting a relatively short prison sentence. As a result, many many people in large scale international drug trafficking cases literally race to the courthouse for the chance to cooperate.

    This is seen most vividly among Colombian drug traffickers (much more so than among Mexicans) where many actually surrender in order to cooperate and risk long sentences just for the chance to cooperate.  

    I am a criminal defense lawyer based in New York and when I go to MDC Brooklyn or MCC Manhattan I see that the general population is packed with informants. There is a popular book in Colombia called "Cartel de Los Sapos" or "Cartel of the Rats" discussing how the major Colombian kingpins are informants working with the DEA.  

    With that as a background, I would say that the Goudie/Vasquez-Hernandez issue is a non-story. In these types of cases every defendant knows who the informants are - savvy defense lawyers can tell by a quick look at the docket sheet and calls to co-counsel who is cooperating and who is not.

    Chapo Guzman does not need jailhouse gossip to tell him who the witnesses against him might be. Also, he most likely arranged his own "arrest" and will never see a courthouse in the States.

    I guess that is good to hear. (none / 0) (#3)
    by Mikado Cat on Mon Mar 10, 2014 at 10:16:02 PM EST
    My only direct experience is with a kid that no more than brushed the edge with the drug trade, and was told his father and sister would be dead if he didn't keep his mouth shut and plead guilty.

    Didn't seem like the plea (none / 0) (#1)
    by Mikado Cat on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 11:06:15 PM EST
    was going to stick, drug business is too twitchy for even a hint of disloyalty. No place for a halfway snitch, either roll effectively enough to get full protection, or take the fall.

    Once the cops have a snitch, the snitch knows its death if they get put in general population, so the level of cooperation is pretty high. Its a creepy world.