El Chapo Trial: How a Cartel Prince Left the Drug Trade

El Chapo Trial: How a Cartel Prince Left the Drug Trade


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In 2007, an unlikely determine vowed to depart the Sinaloa drug cartel: Vicente Zambada Niebla, a son of one among its leaders and the group’s inheritor obvious.

As unusual because it was {that a} cartel prince wished to stop the empire that he had been groomed to run, Mr. Zambada’s plan to flee the enterprise was much more uncommon: His father’s associate, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the crime lord referred to as El Chapo, provided to place him in contact with federal drug brokers in the USA, he mentioned.

Whereas lots of the particulars of Mr. Zambada’s departure from the drug commerce are nonetheless shrouded in secrecy, he talked about a few of them for first time Friday on the witness stand at Mr. Guzmán’s drug trial in New York.

At 32, Mr. Zambada instructed the jurors, he had grown weary of the narco life and requested his father, Ismael Zambada García, for permission to “retire.” It was then, he mentioned, that Mr. Guzmán made an astonishing proposal: He provided to achieve out to his “contacts” within the Drug Enforcement Administration and see if they’d meet with the younger man.

Mr. Zambada by no means mentioned who these contacts have been or whether or not Mr. Guzmán made good on his provide, however the American authorities have acknowledged that inside two years of floating the concept of leaving the cartel, Mr. Zambada sat down with brokers from the D.E.A. at a clandestine assembly in Mexico.

That encounter led, by twists and turns, to his arrest in March 2009 and extradition to Chicago. It additionally led to a cooperation settlement with the USA authorities and his look this week as a prosecution witness at Mr. Guzmán’s trial.

The tantalizing point out of the drug kingpin having allies within the D.E.A. got here as Mr. Zambada confronted cross-examination.

[Read more about Vicente Zambada Niebla’s testimony.]

Drug traffickers and the brokers who pursue them are sometimes thought to exist in separate worlds, residing on their very own sides of the legislation and assembly solely in these climactic moments when an arrest is made. However the Guzmán trial, which is being held in Federal District Courtroom in Brooklyn, has urged one thing completely different: that even essentially the most black-and-white boundaries can at instances be blurred or crossed.

Final month, for instance, Juan Carlos Ramírez Abadía, Mr. Guzmán’s main supplier of Colombian cocaine, testified that when he discovered he was underneath investigation by American authorities, he reached out to the D.E.A. and tried to strike what his lawyer later known as “a rapprochement.”

Although the 2 sides finally did not make a deal, Mr. Ramírez, struggling no hurt, went again to promoting medication for an extra 10 years.

Mr. Zambada’s state of affairs was barely extra advanced. He was at first on observe to be prosecuted in Chicago for smuggling tons of medicine whereas serving as his father’s right-hand man. However earlier than his trial started, his legal professionals unveiled a startling protection: They claimed that after his assembly with the D.E.A., he began working as a spy for the company, buying and selling info on his rivals in trade for the flexibility to run his enterprise freely.

“In essence,” his legal professionals wrote in a 2011 pretrial movement, “the USA authorities entered right into a conspiracy with one of many largest drug cartels on the planet.”

Federal prosecutors denied there was any conspiracy and ultimately, a decide didn’t enable Mr. Zambada to defend himself by arguing one existed. He pleaded responsible in 2013 and agreed to cooperate.

Choose Brian M. Cogan just lately ensured that the identical allegations would additionally not be heard at Mr. Guzmán’s trial in Brooklyn. In a ruling this week, the decide forbade any point out of a potential quid professional quo settlement between Mr. Zambada and the federal government from the trial, saying it could “create a sideshow” that risked “complicated the problems” and “deceptive the jury.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Zambada testified that the American authorities continued to work with him, in considerably curious methods, whilst his case proceeded towards trial.

He described a rare scene during which federal brokers plucked him from his jail cell in Chicago late one evening in 2012. From there, he mentioned, he was taken to an workplace and handed a telephone. His father was on the road.

The elder Mr. Zambada was a wished man, a world prison with a million-dollar bounty on his head. The brokers requested the son to induce the daddy to give up. Mr. Zambada mentioned he did.

Although there was no give up, the 2 males spoke for a number of minutes, discussing their temper, well being and authorized conditions.

“He instructed me he beloved me very a lot,” Mr. Zambada mentioned.

It was, he added, the final time he spoke together with his father.



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