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Did U.S. deal with Sinaloa Cartel?

Some Mexicans take as a writ of faith that their government is in collusion with the Sinaloa cartel, the nation’s most powerful crime group.

What one doesn’t hear so often is that U.S. prosecutors have cut deals with the Sinaloa cartel.

Yet that is precisely what is alleged in federal court documents filed last week in the northern district of Illinois. The case involves the son of one of the two main leaders of the Sinaloa crime group, “El Mayo” Zambada. His son, Vicente Jesus Zambada-Niebla, was arrested in a swank Mexico City neighborhood in March 2009 and later sent to stand trial in Illinois.

Perhaps the allegations presented by the lawyer for “Vicentillo” are far-fetched. But maybe not.
In any case, Zambada Sr. and his fellow Sinaloa crime chief, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, were indicted in California in 1995. That indictment also named their consigliere, Humberto Loya Castro. 

In 2008, U.S. prosecutors dropped charges against Loya Castro (see document above), and the presumption was that he’d been collaborating with U.S. prosecutors on bringing Mexican drug traffickers to justice.

Here is the description of what unfolded, according to the younger Zambada’s lawyer:

Sometime prior to 2004, and continuing through the time period covered in the indictment, the United States government entered into an agreement with Loya and the leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel, including Mayo and Chapo.  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.

The court filings allege that the two top Sinaloa leaders had full trust in Loya even though they knew he was routinely meeting with U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents. They also knew that the DEA was not going to move against the while the agreement was in force, even though indictments were already in effect, the papers allege.

Through his lawyer, Vicente Zambada says Loya brokered a meeting for him with U.S. drug agents at the Mexico City Sheraton Hotel in March 2009.

Mr. Zambada-Niebla believed that under the prior agreement, any activities of the Sinaloa Cartel, including the kind described in the indictment, were covered by the agreement, and that he was immune from arrest or prosecution.

The filings say the agreement with the Sinaloa cartel had “been approved at the highest levels of the U.S. government.”

Five hours after the meeting, Zambada Jr was busted by Mexican police.

Zambada’s lawyer filed the new papers in his defense to request that the U.S. government turn over all documents related to turning Loya into an informant and any agreements reached with Sinaloa leaders.

Mr. Zambada-Niebla believes that the materials requested in request #42 will confirm his allegations that the United States has a policy of entering into agreements with individuals who they know are violent narcotics traffickers, so long as those persons are willing to provide information against other drug traffickers, and that they entered into such an agreement with the leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Item: I should probably state the obvious straight off: Zambada Jr's interest is in getting out of jail. Would he be willing to make stuff up whole cloth to get his wish? Probably. So it is possible that there is a grain of truth in this but also conjecture and falsehoods. As Carmen Aristegui said this morning on her radio interview program, certainly some of the allegations could be proven or refuted with things like closed circuit TV images that the Sheraton Hotel would have.


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Janet Jones

If there are close-circuit TV cameras in the Mexico City Sheraton, and this was a high-level meeting involving US agents and cartel members, well, I suspect the first thing that would have been done would be to disable the Sheraton's cameras to assure Mexican authorities and others purposely not made privy to the meeting, including hotel security, would not be able to sit on the meeting virtually. So it's pretty clear the radio show pundit has very little street sense, at least when it comes to the drug war.

Janet Jones

This story was broken by Narco News over this past weekend. It then went nationwide in Mexico, with more than a 100 publications picking the story up on Monday and Tuesday, including all the majors: Proceso, La Jornada, Por Esto! among them.

And then, three going on four days later, a few US publications started picking up on it, but none of the big papers so far, and the publications that did run with the story, including this one, only scratch the surface or printed a few graphs. How is that possible?

Anyway, check out the Narco News story [and while there the past stories on this subject, including the Zambada case]. They all include links to the court pleadings. And then draw your own conclusions as to whether this is just a “defense strategy” with no underlying truth to it, or maybe a bit more, a part of US history that we can’t seem to shed.


Julie R Butler

Supporting the government of our neighboring country is a "necessary evil," if you will, like supporting the corrupt government of Afghanistan - speaking of which, the sparkling new Ambassador to Mexico was formerly the deputy ambassador to that very country.

The real scandal here would be if the allegations that the US government protected the Sinaloa Cartel, allowing them to continue to sell drugs, commit crimes, in order to get information from these supposed informants is true.

Like the idea that allowing guns to walk over the border would lead to important information, this method of fighting crime is insane. As this article points out, this guy has his own self-interest to look after, so how could the DEA agents possibly verify the "information" he was feeding them, again, if any of this is true?

It's all just insanity - this whole war against drugs. There are way too many vested interests. There does not need to be any conspiracy by some evil overloard that is orchestrate the whole thing - just a collection of self-serving individuals like in Catch-22, the most insightful work of fictional reality ever.

John Randolph

Tim - thank you for addressing this issue.

Many Americans do not have a clue as to the support that our government gives to Mexico in this murderous war on drugs.

This is known: our tax dollars go to the Mexican government's war on drugs via Merida funding. That war started in 2006, and close to 40,000 people have been murdered in Mexico since then.

What is unknown is the covert dealings that your article refers to.

How does Washington justify holding hands with Calderon and his corrupt, civil rights abusing Mexican military?

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This blog is written by Tim Johnson, the Mexico bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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