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Shortly after Mr. Valencia landed here in Las Vegas on a flight from Mexico, he was taken into custody by federal drug agents. Even though Sinaloa Cartel drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman wasn't yet in custody at the time, federal prosecutors had apparently planned to add Valencia to the El Chapo case in Chicago.
According to court records, Valencia says that when arrested, "He immediately asked for counsel and showed agents the business card of his attorney Victor Hernandez, whose office is in San Jose, Calif. Valencia says that despite this, agents and a federal prosecutor questioned him repeatedly over a period of two days. He also says that even though attorney Hernandez showed up at a local jail looking for Valencia, Hernandez was not told where Valencia was. The government disputes this."
A few days later, Valencia was secretly brought to Chicago and held in the Village of Oak Park Jail where U.S. authorities attempted to turn him into a prosecution witness for the El Chapo case, according to federal court records.
In February, he was indeed indicted in the El Chapo case and the I-Team just learned Wednesday that he pleaded not guilty last week before U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo. He's accused of coordinating the delivery of large shipments of cocaine from Mexico to the U.S., collecting and laundering drug money.
Valencia complained to Judge Matthew Kennelly, who was assigned to the original case, saying he was denied his right to an attorney.
In this opinion, Kennelly reflected: "The real question is whether the government has acted in bad faith." Kennelly wrote the "Court is unpersuaded that the government has acted in bad faith."
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Chicago late Wednesday declined to comment on the judge's opinion.
Prosecutors here are still waiting for word on whether El Chapo himself will be extradited from Mexico and if so, where he will stand trial. If Chicago, he could be prosecuted with Valencia in federal court.
Another of El Chapo's alleged henchmen, Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez, is still scheduled to stand trial in May.