A son of fugitive Mexican cartel leader Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia has pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges and is cooperating with the American government, US authorities revealed.
Arrested in Mexico in 2009 and extradited to the United States the following year, Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla entered a guilty plea in April 2013 before US District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo in Chicago.
His written plea agreement was made public for the first time Thursday.
Zambada-Niebla, 39, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and heroin between 2005 and 2008.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said the conspiracy involved the distribution of “multiple” tons of cocaine during that period, with hundreds of kilograms distributed on a monthly or weekly basis.
No date has yet been set for sentencing Zambada-Niebla, whose guilty plea means he forfeited his right to a trial.
He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and at least 10 years behind bars, along with a maximum fine of $4 million. His jail time could be reduced if he continues to cooperate with US authorities.
Zambada-Niebla’s co-defendants include his father, believed to be on the run in Mexico, and Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who was arrested in February. Both men are seen as leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Zambada-Niebla helped facilitate the importation of tons of cocaine from Central and South American countries, including Colombia and Panama, into Mexico, using private aircraft, submarines, container ships, fishing vessels, buses, rail cars, tractor-trailers and cars.
He then coordinated the drugs’ delivery to wholesale distributors, who would in turn smuggle cocaine and heroin across the US border and throughout the United States, the plea agreement said.
Zambada-Niebla also admitted directly helping to transport large quantities of narcotics cash proceeds from the United States to Mexico.
All Sinaloa Cartel members “were protected by the ubiquitous presence of weapons,” and Zambada-Niebla had “constant bodyguards who possessed numerous military-caliber weapons,” the plea agreement said.
The Mexican government considers the Sinaloa Cartel to be responsible for most of the drugs entering the United States.
The cartel operates in about 50 countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia.
Feuds between rival gangs for control of lucrative drug routes to the United States and beyond is linked to the deaths of more than 80,000 people in Mexico since late 2006, when then president Felipe Calderon deployed troops to crack down on cartels.
Separately, the Treasury Department announced earlier sanctions against 10 companies and five people connected to Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, a historic leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, and to the founder of the now-defunct Guadalajara Cartel, Rafael Caro Quintero. Both men are fugitives.
As a result of the sanctions, all related properties and assets will be frozen and US companies are barred from conducting business with them.