BY FRANK MAIN
Chicago Sun Times
The son of one of the world’s most powerful drug kingpins contends his harsh jail conditions in Chicago are unconstitutional.
Vicente Zambada-Niebla was arrested in 2009 in a swanky Mexico City neighborhood along with five bodyguards armed with AR-15 assault rifles.
Zambada — a reputed high-level Sinaloa cartel member — is charged with conspiring to import hundreds of pounds of cocaine and heroin to Chicago. He has more than three dozen other co-defendants, including his father, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, a fugitive who is considered a top Sinaloa leader. Between 2005 and 2008, the cartel used Boeing 747 jets, submarines, fishing boats and container ships to move the drugs from Central and South America to Chicago, prosecutors said.
Zambada is being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago where he awaits trial. In a court filing last week, asking for better jail conditions, Zambada’s lawyer George L. Santangelo said his client is shuttled between four cells set aside for him at the jail to keep him isolated from other inmates. “He sleeps in a cell for two consecutive nights and then is required to move to one of the other three cells,” Santangelo wrote.
Other inmates in the jail’s Special Housing Unit are required to move only once a month and only one cell is reserved for each inmate, the lawyer said.
Zambada is prohibited from speaking to any inmates or anyone else other than a counselor or Bureau of Prisons official above the rank of lieutenant, neither of whom is on his floor regularly, Santangelo said.
Zambada gets mail about once a month and is allowed one call a week, far fewer than most other inmates. And he must exercise in a 12-foot-by-12-foot wire cage, Santangelo said.
“In the entire period of his pre-trial detention, he has not seen sunlight or breathed fresh air. In contrast, he had outdoor exercise every day in a super-maximum security facility in Mexico,” his lawyer wrote.
Santangelo said the jail should explain why Zambada is being held under such tight restrictions or discontinue them.
In recent years, other high-security prisoners such as mob killer Frank Calabrese Sr. and white supremacist Matt Hale also have been placed under tough lockdown measures usually reserved for terrorists. But their conditions don’t appear to have been as restrictive as Zambada’s.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment.