Texas federal grand jury indicts Sinaloa cartel leaders

April 25, 2012

CNN on April 24, 2012 released the following:

“By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) — A U.S. federal grand jury in Texas has indicted the suspected top leaders of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel.

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia face murder and conspiracy charges connected with drug trafficking, money laundering and organized crime.

The indictment, returned April 11 and unsealed Tuesday, also charges 22 other people who prosecutors allege are connected with the cartel.

It is one of several U.S. federal indictments charging Guzman, who is widely known as Mexico’s most wanted fugitive and has made Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s most powerful people.

“It’s a reminder we’re right behind him, that he can’t live out in the open. We need to get them apprehended,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Franco said Tuesday.

This month’s indictment in western Texas detailed two acts of violence prosecutors said were committed by members of the cartel, including the 2010 kidnapping of an American citizen and two members of his family during a wedding ceremony in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, because of their ties with the rival Juarez cartel.

The target was the groom and a resident of Columbus, New Mexico, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas said in a statement.

Police found the bodies of the groom, his brother and his uncle three days after the wedding in the bed of a pickup truck, according to the indictment.

The indictment also describes the 2009 kidnapping, killing and mutilation of a Texas resident “to answer for the loss of a 670-pound load of marijuana seized by the Border Patrol,” prosecutors said.

Investigators found the Texas resident’s body in Ciudad Juarez, according to the indictment.

“He had been beaten and strangled and his hands had been severed above the wrists and placed on his chest, to serve as a warning to those who might attempt to steal from the cartel,” the indictment says.

Guzman and Zambada have been indicted on drug trafficking and organized crime charges in a number of U.S. federal courts. U.S. officials have offered a $5 million reward for information leading to their capture.

Guzman was arrested in 1993 on homicide and drug charges but escaped in 2001, reportedly by bribing prison guards to smuggle him out in a laundry truck. A Mexican federal investigation led to the arrest of more than 70 prison officials.

Forbes magazine has placed him on its list of the world’s most powerful people, reporting his net worth of $1 billion as of March.

Rumors regularly surge about his whereabouts.

Franco declined to comment on whether there was new information regarding Guzman’s location.

He described Guzman as “a man who has unlimited means, more money than most people in Mexico.”

“It affords him the ability to hide,” Franco added.

The Sinaloa Cartel, named after the Mexican state where the gang was formed, is one of the most powerful drug-trafficking groups in the nation.”


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

Kingpin’s Son: US Traded Immunity for Information

September 9, 2011

The Associated Press (AP) on September 8, 2011 released the following:

Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) — The handsome, square-jawed young man held in isolation in a Chicago jail doesn’t deny he was a top lieutenant in his father’s Mexican drug cartel but instead has offered a novel defense for his drug-trafficking.

Vicente Zambada’s lawyers claim he and other cartel leaders were granted immunity by U.S. agents – and carte blanche to smuggle cocaine over the border – in exchange for intelligence about rival cartels engaged in bloody turf wars in Mexico.

Experts scoff at the claim, which U.S. prosecutors are expected to answer in a filing Friday in federal court. But records filed in support of his proposed defense have offered a peek at the sordid world of Mexico’s largest drug syndicate, the Sinaloa cartel, which is run by his father, Ismael Zambada, and Mexico’s most wanted man, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

It’s a world of brutality, greed and snitching, and federal agents would love to have the younger Zambada pass along more intelligence, especially if it could help bring down his family’s operation or lead to the capture of Guzman, a billionaire who escaped from a Mexican prison in a laundry truck in 2001.

“It comes down to whether he would be willing to give up his dad or Guzman,” said David Shirk, who heads the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. “Would he be willing to give up his own dad? It seems unlikely.”

Zambada, 35, has rarely been seen since his 2009 arrest in Mexico City, after which Mexican authorities paraded him before TV cameras in a stylish black blazer and dark blue jeans. His suave image was a sharp contrast to a photo of him with moustache and cowboy hat released by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2007.

He may have upgraded his look after he assumed control over cartel logistics in 2008 and, federal officials say, received authority to order assassinations. He was arrested and extradited to Chicago a year later to face trafficking conspiracy charges punishable by up to life in prison.

The Sinaloa cartel is one of Mexico’s most powerful. Named after the Pacific coast state of the same name, it controls trafficking on the border with California and is battling rival cartels in an effort to expand east along the 2,000-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border.

Accustomed to luxury in Mexico, Zambada has been held in a 10-by-6 foot cell in Chicago, is often served meals that have gone cold and hasn’t been outside in 18 months, his attorneys say. U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo told the government Thursday to file a response to those complaints.

Armed marshals led the shackled Zambada into Thursday’s hearing. He appeared at-ease, even smiling and winking at woman sitting on a spectators’ bench.

Castillo will decide later whether Zambada’s provocative immunity claim has any credibility, but many experts said they were skeptical.

“Personally, I think it is a bunch of malarkey,” said Scott Stewart, who analyzes Mexico’s cartels for the Texas-based Stratfor global intelligence company. “I mean, what the defense is saying is that a huge amount of cocaine was allowed to pass into the United States unimpeded. Why would you even have sought his extradition if there was this potential backlash?”

U.S. prosecutors briefly discounted Zambada’s claim in one filing, but more details are expected in Friday’s documents. A spokesman for U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald would not comment on the allegation. Neither would a Washington spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, whose agents Zambada claims to have dealt with in Mexico.

However, clandestine intelligence deals are not uncommon, and conspiracy theories abound in Mexico about the government going easy on one cartel to keep the others under control.

The Sinoloa cartel’s adept use of information has helped it gain power as some others waned, trafficking experts say. The government has had only limited success battling it since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels five years ago. Since then, more than 35,000 Mexicans have died – mostly in cartel-on-cartel violence.

Zambada’s lawyers say the U.S. government believed turning a blind eye to the Sinaloa kingpins was an “an acceptable price to pay, because the principal objective was the destruction and dismantling of rival cartels.”

To bolster their claim, they point to the way the U.S. and Colombia fought that country’s once mighty cartels.

The Medellin and Cali cartels were laid low in the 1990s, in part by a divide-and-conquer strategy in which U.S.-backed authorities brought down the former before going after the latter, trafficking experts say. In some cases, they relied on informants.

The demise of Colombia’s cartels and U.S. successes in disrupting smuggling routes in the Caribbean contributed to the spectacular rise in influence and wealth of the Mexican cartels. Today, about 90 percent of U.S.-bound cocaine goes through Mexico, according to the DEA.

Mexican authorities arrested Zambada just hours after he supposedly met DEA agents in a Sheraton Hotel in Mexico City. He told the agents he wanted to start providing information directly to them rather than through a cartel attorney, according to the defense filings.

Experts, though, say the kind of collusion described by Zambada’s attorneys goes far beyond what U.S. authorities were likely to have contemplated.

“I know of no case where immunity like this has been granted,” said George Grayson, author of the book, “Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State?”

However, Zambada and other Sinaloa leaders may have given information to U.S. or Mexican agents even if the immunity claim isn’t true, Stewart and other experts say.

“The Sinaloa cartel has been better than any other cartel in Mexico at framing rival cartels – leaking information that gets their enemies in trouble,” Shirk said.

Jorge Chabat, an international relations professor in Mexico City, said it’s also possible that Sinaloa continued to thrive simply because Mexican authorities decided to focus first on more violent cartels, including a notorious gang in northeastern Mexico known as the Zetas.

“By comparison, the Sinaloas aren’t exactly the Sisters of Charity – but they’re less violent,” he said. “Sinaloa is a little more rational about its violence.””

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

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