El Chapo 'Tried to Kill Me': A Final Witness Confronts the Drug Lord

She emerged from the shadows of the Sinaloa cartel to speak out in court as El Chapo was sentenced to life in prison.

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She emerged from the shadows of the Sinaloa cartel to speak out in court as El Chapo was sentenced to life in prison.

"I lost my family, my friends. I became a shadow without a name," Andrea Velez, a confidential F.B.I. the informant said at the sentencing of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug lord. Credit Johannes Eisele/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images

Time and time again at the trial of the Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, known as El Chapo, figures from his previous braved Sinaloa cartel retribution to testify to his heinous offenses.

There was the professional assassin who described how Mr. Guzmán was burying a guy alive and burning in a bonfire two others. There was his nearest partner's brother who said he was regularly bribing Mexico's police, army, and nearly every other official.

Even one of the kingpin's mistresses stood up against him and remembered how, naked, he forced her into a tunnel under a bathtub and dragged her along as she fled from the Mexican marines.

On Wednesday, one last person from the past of Mr. Guzmán, who prosecutors say was instrumental in his downfall but never testified at the trial, appeared at his New York sentence to describe the emotional toll of being a target of the assassins of Mr. Guzmán.

"I am a miracle of God because Mr. Guzmán tried to kill me," she said.

In the long-running cartel case, the female, Andrea Velez, performed a range of positions: a personal assistant to a drug trafficker; the victim of a plot of murder; and a secret F.B.I. informant.

El Chapo 'Tried to Kill Me': A Final Witness Confronts the Drug Lord
Mexican drug kingpin 'El Chapo'

Ms. Velez-an unknown age-appeared at the Brooklyn Federal District Court sentence to discuss how she was affected by the crimes of Mr. Guzmán. Although it was found that Mr. Guzmán was liable for murdering dozens of individuals, she was the only individual to give what is known as a declaration about the victim impact.

In a tearful 15-minute speech, she told the judge, who ultimately sentenced the kingpin to life in prison, that around 2013, after her relationship with him had soured, he paid $1 million to a group of Hells Angels to assassinate her.

Dressed in a black pantsuit with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, Ms. Velez talked about surviving the assassination plot, her lingering nightmares and the catharsis of finally confronting her would-be killer.

"I forgive you as I hope you can forgive me," she said to Mr. Guzmán, sniffling.

She also said that, after seven years of working undercover for the government and in secrecy, she was ready to step out of the shadows. But even after her appearance, shadows still surround her.

According to testimony at Mr. Guzmán's trial, Ms. Velez began around 2010 to work as an assistant for one of Mr. Guzmán's lieutenants, the Colombian trafficker Alex Cifuentes.

She had met Mr. Cifuentes in Cancun and traveled on his behalf to Colombia, Ecuador, and Canada, handling the details of his drug deals.

While that became her main job, she also had a side job running a modeling agency, according to witnesses at the trial. And in that role, testimony showed, she occasionally brokered paid relationships between her female friends and wealthy, powerful men.

Mr. Guzmán, always on the lookout for new talent, employed Ms. Velez himself at times, using her for what amounted to a string of dirty tricks.

In 2013, according to evidence at trial, she posed as a prostitute and served as bait for a corrupt Ecuadorean military officer the kingpin wanted to kidnap. Around the same time, after learning that Ms. Velez hosted private parties for a top Mexican general, Mr. Guzmán asked her to offer the general a $10 million bribe.

Neither the kingpin nor Mr. Cifuentes knew the F.B.I. had approached Ms. Velez in September 2012 and had persuaded her to spy on both of them. The agents' leverage was a sealed indictment that had been returned against Ms. Velez four months earlier in Manhattan.

Much of Ms. Velez's covert work for the F.B.I. remains shrouded in official secrecy, though prosecutors in the case recently revealed that she made never-released video recordings of at least one of Mr. Guzmán's associates. They also disclosed that she helped Mr. Guzmán strike a deal with a ghost writer to tell his life story for a movie project.

Prosecutors added that she met with Mr. Guzmán several times and "provided information that helped government authorities eventually arrest and capture him." They did not explain what that information was.

In the courtroom on Wednesday, Ms. Velez said that when she first met Mr. Guzmán she was impressed by his apparent kindness and charisma. She saw him as polite, well mannered and concerned about her.

But ultimately, she said, she decided that she was suffering from a kind of Stockholm syndrome and was not the kingpin's ally but his captive, who could only leave his organization "in a plastic bag and feet first."

"My dreams of grandeur became my worst nightmares," she told the court, erupting into sobs. "I lost my family, my friends. I became a shadow without a name."

That name - if it indeed is her real name; at least one witness testified at Mr. Guzmán's trial under a pseudonym - appears nowhere on the federal database of cases. Even though Ms. Velez was charged, pleaded guilty and has already been sentenced, there appears to be no public record of her case.

Source: NY Times


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