BY NATASHA KORECKI/Chicago Sun-Times
At his mountaintop lair in Mexico, Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman, the head of the world’s biggest narcotics cartel, told a Chicago drug trafficker he wanted dozens of military-grade assault weapons to stage an attack in Mexico City in retaliation against U.S. authorities who were messing with their drug business, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
“This government is letting [American law enforcement] do whatever they want,” said one of Guzman’s lieutenants, Ismael Zambada-Garcia, according to a cooperator in the case, Margarito Flores. “It will be good to send [them] a message.”
“They are f------ us everywhere,” Guzman allegedly said of the government during a meeting on the mountaintop compound. “Let it be a government building, it doesn’t matter whose. An embassy or a consulate, a media outlet or television station [attack a Mexican or U.S. government or media building in Mexico City].”
Guzman remains at large, but is a critical piece of the massive case that’s headed to trial early next year in Chicago — one of the highest-profile drug prosecutions in the nation.
Guzman’s remarks were quoted in the so-called “Santiago Proffer” filed by federal prosecutors Thursday in the wide-reaching case targeting the Sinaloa Cartel. The 63-page filing gives the most detail yet about the case that charges a conspiracy involving the shipment of massive amounts of cocaine and heroin from Mexico into the United States. The newly filed papers show that twin brothers from Chicago — Margarito and Pedro Flores — will be among 10 cooperating witnesses who will testify at trial and that the government has a recorded conversation of Vicente Zambada-Niebla, allegedly asking for follow-up on plans for an explosive retaliation.
Even though Zambada-Niebla’s defense has warned it may not be prepared to begin trial in February, U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo has asked parties to aim for that date.
The top DEA official in Chicago has referred to Guzman “as the most dangerous criminal in the world and probably the most wealthy criminal in the world.” Authorities say his cartel has flooded Chicago with marijuana and other drugs — leading the Sun-Times last week to refer to him as “Chicago’s New Scarface.” Guzman remains on the Forbes list as one of the top billionaires in the world. The Sinaloa Cartel is among the warring Mexican drug organizations engaged in gruesome, bloody slayings that together are suspected of tens of thousands of murders in the country.
In Chicago’s drug conspiracy case, allegations here have centered on man who is in custody at Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center — Zambada-Niebla — whom the government describes as a high-ranking leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.
According to the proffer, Zambada-Niebla ordered Margarito Flores to make it a priority to secure weapons and retaliate against the government.
“Twin, you know guys coming back from the war. Find somebody who can give you big powerful weapons, American s---. . . . We don’t need that small s---, I want to blow up some buildings. We got a lot of grenades, we got a lot of .50 calibers, we’re tired of AKs,” Zambada-Niebla allegedly said. “You’re good with me. You want to be really good with me, get me my s---, my guns. F--- the money, f--- the drugs, I want to blow s--- up. I want some bazookas, some grenade launchers.”
At the time, Flores had already been cooperating. He reported the conversation to a DEA agent. Authorities then recorded a call between Margarito Flores and Zambada-Niebla on Nov. 29, 2008, where they discuss the plot further, according to court papers. The government, however, then does not allege any further action with regard to a plot to blow up a building.
Zambada-Niebla’s attorney said Thursday any comment on the new filings would come in a defense court filing. Zambada-Niebla has leveled a series of charges against the United States, including that he had been cooperating with U.S. agents when they turned around and charged him.
The Flores brothers, who are in custody, had done business with two warring drug cartels, authorities have said. Each cartel threatened the Flores brothers with violence if they did business with the other, according to the charges. The brothers approached authorities in 2008 and offered their cooperation.
Contributing: Frank Main