Showing posts with label Ismael Zamada Garcia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ismael Zamada Garcia. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

How Chicago became a Key Hub in El Chapo's Massive Sinaloa Cartel U.S. Drug Operation

In untold hundreds of truck and train shipments, tons of cocaine rolled into Chicago hidden among loads of vegetables, shrimp, and even live sheep.

The city acted as the American distribution center of the vast network of the Sinaloa cartel, and was run by Chicago twin brothers who had declared allegiance to a person they referred to often simply as “The Man.” Both would eventually turn against their boss, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, and one of them, Pedro Flores, began testifying in Guzman’s historic trial in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn on Tuesday.

In harrowing detail over three hours, Flores explained his rise from dealing cocaine with family members on the Southwest Side to working as a top lieutenant for the world’s most notorious drug lord. He told an anonymous jury in New York that he has cooperated against some 50 people in the cartel network already, testifying he risked his life to help the U.S. government after considering his future and that of his pregnant wife 10 years ago. “Or that lack of a future,” Flores said. “That lack of living. I couldn’t promise my family tomorrow.”

Neither Pedro Flores nor his twin, Margarito Flores, have been seen publicly in the nearly four years since both were sentenced to 14 years in prison in Chicago. Dressed in navy blue jail garb, Pedro Flores took a seat in the courtroom Tuesday for a few moments before the jury filed in to hear his testimony.

Perhaps 30 feet away was El Chapo himself, a man to whom Flores estimated he once sent as much as $227 million a year from the cartel’s U.S. operation. Guzman has entered the courtroom with a smile and handshakes for his lawyers in recent days, but as he stared across the room toward Flores, that look had faded.

Flores was somewhat soft-spoken as he related his experiences, drawing laughs in the courtroom gallery at times with his likable demeanor. He described giving El Chapo gold-plated guns as a gift because Flores had “seen too many movies,” and recalled that the reputed kingpin laughed at him the first time he met Guzman at a secret mountain compound in Sinaloa.

Flores was wearing jean shorts. “He said with all that money, I couldn’t afford the rest of the pants?” Flores said.

Guzman has been on trial for more than a month at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, with prosecutors accusing him of drug trafficking as the head of the cartel. They have presented a series of insider witnesses, perhaps none more compelling than the 37-year-old Flores, who now ranks among the most significant criminal turncoats that Chicago has ever produced.

He told jurors his father welcomed him into the world of drug smuggling, using him as a child because his hands were small enough to reach into gas tanks of cars where drugs had been stashed. Their father was kidnapped and presumably killed when he ignored warnings and returned to Mexico in 2009 after drug rings suspected the brothers were helping authorities.

Questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Fels, Flores explained how his early drug business grew thanks to a connection from one of his father’s friends to the point where Flores was taking shipments in a “grimy van” left for him at a restaurant in the Chicago suburbs. Fels then showed jurors a photograph of a Denny’s in Bolingbrook off of I-55.

Early work to keep larger quantities of drugs in stash houses didn’t always go well, Flores said. The first time he backed the van into a garage, it hit the overhang and the drugs had to be unloaded on the driveway. The plastic bags they were in then tore, spilling kilos onto the concrete. “There’s neighbors out,” he said. “It was a pretty hectic day.”

Chicago was a natural hub for drug networking, Flores said, because of its location in the middle of the country and its infrastructure. “You’re practically halfway to everywhere,” Flores testified.

Flores was soon moving drugs to Milwaukee and other cities, where he eventually attracted the attention of federal authorities who got an indictment against him and sent the brothers fleeing to Mexico.

All of the growth sometimes meant lost shipments and drug debts, one of them leading to a dispute with a former supplier who apparently ordered his kidnapping in Mexico, Flores said. He described being handcuffed, blindfolded and stuffed in a truck for a bumpy ride to a building where he said he was held in a cell for days.

After his brother helped arrange his freedom, and with cartel leaders including Guzman and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada taking notice of the twins’ success, Flores described an early meeting with Zambada and Guzman’s cousin.

Zambada told the Flores brothers they would be supplied by the cartel, and that their business would grow again. The drug boss said “any idiot” could sell drugs in Mexico, but through his own experiences in Chicago, Zambada was impressed with how much product the brothers had moved in the U.S. “He laughed and said, ‘imagine if you guys were triplets,’ ” Flores testified.

The Floreses would get the same price for bulk cocaine as other top lieutenants, Flores recalled Zambada saying, and they would work on their own behalf.

The business did in fact take off again, Flores said. Drugs flowed through Los Angeles and Chicago to Philadelphia, Detroit, New York and Washington. Throughout his cartel career, Flores said, he moved some 60 tons into the states.

After boosting their supply, the Flores brothers were taken to see El Chapo, Flores said, telling jurors he went first to an airstrip in a cornfield for a 40-minute flight that ended on another runway that ran up the side of an incline in the mountains.

From there they were driven in trucks into an even more remote area. Along the way were macabre signs of the cartel’s handiwork, including a naked man chained to a tree. Flores recalled he appeared to be crouching and staring down at them as they passed.

The kingpin’s compound was a concrete foundation rising from the earth, he said, with a thatched roof. “Like you’d see on vacation,” he said. El Chapo appeared wearing a hat, with a shiny handgun in his waistband. An AK-47 rifle leaned on a chair nearby.

Guzman promised to solve the dispute that had led to Flores being kidnapped, and indeed, Flores said he heard that the man, Guadalupe Ledesma, eventually had been suffocated on El Chapo’s orders. Flores said his anxiety around Guzman eventually faded in future meetings, and that he brought El Chapo the gift of the guns — which were laughed at for being too heavy — and a gag gift of a pair of jean shorts like the ones Flores had been mocked for, which he gave the kingpin in a box shaped like a Viagra pill.

Flores described how the shipments just kept coming, with the cartel even employing submarines to move drugs into the U.S. without detection. The truck shipments came too, including so many with vegetables Flores said they could affect market prices by dumping them for sale in Chicago. And there was the one with the sheep.

The brothers were unprepared. And the truck was headed for a Chicago warehouse.

“I’m looking at a bunch of live sheep,” Flores said. “What are we gonna do with them?” The answer was a friend who was paid $10,000 to take them out of the city. Still, Flores said he complained up the chain of command that “I was concerned the cover loads were getting kinda weak.”

By November 2008, Flores said he had begun to have enough of the business. His wife was newly pregnant, and the cartel had split into two warring factions. One remained headed by Guzman and Zambada, and another by Arturo Beltran Leyva. Both sides wanted to force the brothers to remain loyal and never do business with the other side.

The brothers’ “sweet spot” in the cartel that let them make money without worrying about internal — and often deadly — politics was dissolving. Fearing for his life, Flores said he reached out to the Drug Enforcement Administration through a lawyer, and began cooperating.

That included making recordings, including of El Chapo, on a digital recorder Flores said he bought at a Radio Shack in Mexico. The jury is expected to hear those recordings in the coming days, as Flores continues his testimony.

As for his more recent past, Flores testified that he hasn’t always been on the straight and narrow. He worked a scam to flood other inmates’ commissary accounts with money, he testified, and got his wife pregnant again, this time in a bathroom while in DEA custody.

Still, his cooperation could be key in the federal government’s attempt to hold El Chapo accountable for decades of allegedly providing illicit drugs to addicted Americans. Flores said he made the decision he had to, knowing he was testifying in exchange for wiping out crimes that could have meant multiple life sentences.

“I could only give them one life,” he said.

Thanks to Jeff Coen.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Full Details on Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla, of the #SinaloaCartel, Guilty Plea and Cooperation with US Feds

A high-level member of the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico pleaded guilty a year ago to participating in a vast narcotics trafficking conspiracy and is cooperating with the United States, federal law enforcement officials announced.  A written plea agreement with the defendant, Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla, was made public in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Zambada-Niebla, 39, pleaded guilty on April 3, 2013, before U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo.  Zambada-Niebla was arrested in Mexico in 2009, and he was extradited to the United States in February 2010.

Zambada-Niebla remains in U.S. custody and no sentencing date has been set.  Under the plea agreement, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison¸ a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, and a maximum fine of $4 million.  If the government determines at the time of sentencing that Zambada-Niebla has continued to provide full and truthful cooperation, as required by the plea agreement, the government will move to depart below the anticipated advisory federal sentencing guideline of life imprisonment.  In addition, Zambada-Niebla agreed not to contest a forfeiture judgment of more than $1.37 billion.

“This guilty plea is a testament to the tireless determination of the leadership and special agents of DEA’s Chicago office to hold accountable those individuals at the highest levels of the drug trafficking cartels who are responsible for flooding Chicago with cocaine and heroin and reaping the profits,” said Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.  Mr. Fardon announced the guilty plea with Jack Riley, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Zambada-Niebla pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute multiple kilograms of cocaine and heroin between 2005 and 2008.  More specifically, the plea agreement describes the distribution of multiple tons of cocaine, often involving hundreds of kilograms at a time on a monthly, if not weekly, basis between 2005 and 2008.  The guilty plea means that there will be no trial for Zambada-Niebla, whose case was severed from that of his co-defendants.  Among his co-defendants are his father, Ismael Zambada-Garcia, also known as “Mayo,” and Joaquin Guzman-Loera, also known as “Chapo,” both alleged leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel.  Zambada-Garcia is a fugitive believed to be in Mexico, and Guzman-Loera is in Mexican custody after being arrested this past February.

Zambada-Niebla admitted that between May 2005 and December 2008, he was a high-level member of the Sinaloa Cartel and was responsible for many aspects of its drug trafficking operations, “both independently and as a trusted lieutenant for his father,” for whom he acted as a surrogate and logistical coordinator, the plea agreement states.  Zambada-Niebla admitted he was aware that his father was among the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel since the 1970s and their principal livelihood was derived from their sale of narcotics in the United States.

Zambada-Niebla admitted that he participated in coordinating the importation of multi-ton quantities of cocaine from Central and South American countries, including Colombia and Panama, into the interior of Mexico, and facilitated the transportation and storage of these shipments within Mexico.  The cartel used various means of transportation, including private aircraft, submarines and other submersible and semi-submersible vessels, container ships, go-fast boats, fishing vessels, buses, rail cars, tractor-trailers, and automobiles.

Zambada-Niebla “subsequently assisted in coordinating the delivery of cocaine to wholesale distributors in Mexico, knowing that these distributors would in turn smuggle multi-ton quantities of cocaine, generally in shipments of hundreds of kilograms at a time, as well as on at least one occasion, multi-kilogram quantities of heroin, from Mexico across the United States border, and then into and throughout the United States, including Chicago,” according to the plea agreement.

On most occasions, the Sinaloa Cartel supplied this cocaine and heroin to wholesalers on consignment, including to cooperating co-defendants Pedro and Margarito Flores, whom Zambada-Niebla knew distributed multi-ton quantities of cocaine and multi-kilogram quantities of heroin in Chicago, and in turn sent payment to Zambada-Niebla and other cartel leaders.  Zambada-Niebla also admitted being aware of, and directly participating in, transporting large quantities of narcotics cash proceeds from the U.S. to Mexico.

Zambada-Niebla also admitted that he and his father, as well as other members of the Sinaloa Cartel, “were protected by the ubiquitous presence of weapons,” and that he had “constant bodyguards who possessed numerous military-caliber weapons.”  Zambada-Niebla also admitted that he was aware that the cartel used violence and made credible threats of violence to rival cartels and to law enforcement in Mexico to facilitate its business.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control Continues to Target #SinaloaCartel with Support from DEA

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Doug Coleman announced that the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) reported the designation of Jose Guadalupe Tapia Quintero, a Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico based senior lieutenant of the Sinaloa Cartel.  Jose Guadalupe Tapia Quintero was designated for his role in the drug trafficking activities of Ismael "Mayo" Zambada Garcia and for playing a significant role in international drug trafficking.

"DEA and its OFAC partners will not allow these dangerous cartels and their associates to exploit the U.S. financial system," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Doug Coleman.  "We're relentlessly following the financial trail to deprive these traffickers of their assets, draining the lifeblood from their criminal enterprises."

Tapia Quintero oversees the transportation of cocaine and marijuana for the Zambada Garcia drug trafficking organization and is responsible for coordinating the purchase and transportation of cocaine and methamphetamine from Sinaloa into the U.S., specifically Arizona and California, on a monthly basis.  Tapia Quintero also transports methamphetamine on behalf of a drug trafficking cell affiliated with Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman Loera from Sinaloa to Tijuana, Baja California via tractor trailers.  The President identified Joaquin Guzman Loera, Ismael Zambada Garcia, and the Sinaloa Cartel as significant foreign narcotics traffickers pursuant to the Kingpin Act in 2001, 2002 and 2009, respectively.

Pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act), this designation generally prohibits U.S. persons from conducting financial or commercial transactions with Tapia Quintero, and also freezes any assets he may have under U.S. jurisdiction.

"We will continue to target all aspects of the narcotics trade," said Treasury's Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Adam J. Szubin.  "Our actions will focus on their financial nerve points as well as the underlying logistics which are essential to their day to day operations such as the transportation network that we are taking action against today."

This action would not have been possible without the support of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), specifically the Phoenix Field Division, and the multi-agency OCDETF Strike Force.

Since June 2000, the President has identified 103 drug kingpins, and OFAC has designated more than 1300 entities and individuals, pursuant to the Kingpin Act. Penalties for violations of the Kingpin Act range from civil penalties of up to $1.075 million per violation to more severe criminal penalties. Criminal penalties for corporate officers may include up to 30 years in prison and fines up to $5 million. Criminal fines for corporations may reach $10 million. Other individuals could face up to 10 years in prison and fines pursuant to Title 18 of the United States Code for criminal violations of the Kingpin Act.


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