76 Arrested as Officials Break Up Mexico-to-Arizona Drug-Smuggling Ring

November 1, 2011
Guns and Drugs Seized from Mexican Drug Cartel

The New York Times on October 31, 2011 released the following:


PHOENIX — Law enforcement officials on Monday announced the breakup of a large drug-smuggling ring that used lookouts on hilltops in southern Arizona to move huge quantities of marijuana and other drugs across the Mexican border to users throughout the United States.

Over the last month and a half, federal, state and local officials have arrested 76 people, from organizational bosses to stash-house guards to those who transported the drugs in backpacks and in vehicles, the authorities said. All were linked to the Sinaloa cartel run by Joaquín Guzmán, Mexico’s richest and most wanted outlaw, who goes by the nickname El Chapo, officials said.

Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Arizona officials estimated that the ring had been in operation for at least five years and had generated more than $2 billion in profits by smuggling more than three million pounds of marijuana, 20,000 pounds of cocaine and 10,000 pounds of heroin into the United States. Such large smuggling rings usually use tractor-trailers to get their contraband across, the authorities said, but this operation relied mostly on migrants on foot straining under their loads.

The authorities acknowledged that the huge smuggling ring operated under their noses, in rugged terrain that is difficult to patrol. The drugs would be carried across the border in relatively small quantities and then transported north to a network of stash houses in the Phoenix area. From there, the contraband would be sold to distributors nationwide.

The route was through the most desolate desert areas of southern Arizona, from Yuma to just east of the border community of Sells, including the sprawling Tohono O’odham Indian reservation. Spotters with radios or cellphones were used to point out the presence of law enforcement and divert loads, the authorities said.

The investigation began in June of last year with a traffic stop in Pinal County of a suspect who later provided details of the operation, said Sheriff Paul Babeu. Sheriff Babeu, who is considering a run for Congress, cited the arrests to buttress his argument that the border remains porous, despite the Obama administration’s insistence that it was more secure than ever. About half of those arrested were illegal immigrants and the other half were American citizens or holders of valid visas, officials said.

While calling the arrests a blow to the smugglers, the authorities were cautious in declaring victory.

“I expect there will be a shift,” said Matthew Allen, special agent in charge of Arizona for Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. “One investigation is not going to put them out of business. We have to continually adapt.”

Last month, the authorities were reminded of how challenging the drug war had become when they arrested a Homeland Security official stationed at the border, charging him with leading the police on a chase through the desert during which he hurled packages of marijuana from his government vehicle.

Last week, a federal grand jury in Tucson handed up an indictment charging a Border Patrol agent with accepting a bribe to let a truck that he believed was smuggling drugs and migrants past a checkpoint in southern Arizona, federal officials said. When the agent asked the driver if he was a United States citizen, the driver responded “buenos dias” and was waved through, officials said.

Mr. Guzman has made buying off the Mexican authorities his trademark, which has frustrated efforts to capture him from the mountain hamlets where he operates. President Felipe Calderón of Mexico, who has been criticized for not catching the country’s No. 1 drug lord, recently said he suspected that Mr. Guzman may be hiding in the United States. American officials said they had no evidence to back up that claim.”


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

DEA Allegedly Cut a Deal With Sinaloa Cartel, Say Court Documents

August 5, 2011

Fox News on August 5, 2011 released the following:

“By William Lajeunesse

America’s Third War: The U.S. Cut a Deal With the Sinaloa Cartel, Say Court Documents

U.S. federal agents allegedly cut a deal with the Sinaloa drug cartel that allowed it to traffic tons of narcotics across the border, in exchange for information about rival cartels, according to documents filed in federal court.

Click here to view the Sinaloa Cartel case document.

The allegations are made by Vicente Zambada-Niebla, a top ranking cartel boss extradited to the U.S. last year on drug charges. He is a close associate of Mexico’s most wanted man, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and the son of Ismael “Mayo” Zambada-Garcia.

Both remain fugitives, in part, because of the deal Zambada- Niebla made with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, according to a defense motion filed last Friday in the case.

Alvin Michaelson, the Los Angeles attorney representing Zambada- Niebla who wrote the brief, refused comment.

The deal allegedly began with Humberto Loya-Castro, a Sinaloa cartel lawyer who became an informant for the D.E.A. after a drug case against him was dismissed in 2008.

According to the motion, the deal was part of a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy, where the U.S. helped finance and arm the Sinaloa cartel, through Operation Fast and Furious, in exchange for information that allowed the D.E.A. and FBI to destroy and dismantle rival Mexican cartels. Operation Fast and Furious is the failed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives anti-gun trafficking program which allowed thousand of guns to cross into Mexico.

“Under that agreement, the Sinaloa Cartel, through Loya, was to provide information accumulated by Mayo, Chapo, and others, against rival Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations to the United States government. In return, the United States government agreed to dismiss the prosecution of the pending case against Loya, not to interfere with his drug trafficking activities and those of the Sinaloa Cartel, to not actively prosecute him, Chapo, Mayo, and the leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel, and to not apprehend them.”

Zambada- Niebla was arrested in Mexico City in March 2009 and extradited to the U.S. in February to stand trial on narco-trafficking-related charges. The indictment claims he served as the cartel’s “logistical coordinator” who oversaw an operation that imported tons of cocaine into the U.S. by jets, buses, rail cars, tractor-trailers, and automobiles. Zambada-Niebla is now being held in solitary confinement in a Chicago jail cell.

The motion claims Mayo, Chapo and Zambada- Niebla routinely passed information through Loya to the D.E.A. that allowed it to make drug busts. In return, the U.S. helped the leaders evade Mexican police.

It says: “In addition, the defense has evidence that from time to time, the leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel was informed by agents of the DEA through Loya that United States government agents and/or Mexican authorities were conducting investigations near the home territories of cartel leaders so that the cartel leaders could take appropriate actions to evade investigators- even though the United States government had indictments, extradition requests, and rewards for the apprehension of Mayo, Chapo, and other alleged leaders, as well as Mr. Zambada-Niebla.”

In 2008, “the DEA representative told Mr. Loya-Castro that they wanted to establish a more personal relationship with Mr. Zambada-Niebla so that they could deal with him directly.”

In March 17, 2009, Loya set up a meeting at the Sheraton Hotel in Mexico City with two D.E.A. agents, identified as Manny and David. There, the four men met and Zambada-Niebla claims he received immunity from an indictment out of federal court in Washington D.C.

“There is also evidence that at the hotel, Mr. Zambada-Niebla did accept the agreement and thereafter in reliance on that agreement, provided further information regarding rival drug cartels. Mr. Zambada-Niebla was told that the government agents were satisfied with the information he had provided to them and that arrangements would be made to meet with him again. Mr. Zambada-Niebla then left the meeting. Approximately five hours after the meeting, Mr. Zambada-Niebla was arrested by Mexican authorities.”

Experts who reviewed the document say the U.S. typically has written agreements with paid informants that spell out each other’s responsibilities. They doubt Zambada-Niebla had one, although Loya probably did. The defense here is hoping to obtain DEA reports that detail the agencies relationship with the Sinaloa cartel and get the agents on the stand.

In response in court, the U.S. doesn’t dispute that Zambada-Niebla may have acted as an informant – only that he did not act with D.E.A. consent.

The D.E.A. and the federal prosecutors in Chicago had no comment.

Former D.E.A. director Karen Tandy told Fox News “I do not have any knowledge of this and it doesn’t sound right from my experience.””

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN List Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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