By Diana Washington Valdez
El Paso Times
› PDF: Read excerpt of Sinaloa document
Leaders of the Sinaloa drug cartel wanted to buy powerful U.S. military weapons to "blow up" government buildings in Mexico after the arrest of a top alleged kingpin, U.S. prosecutors claimed in court documents.
U.S. prosecutors filed the document Nov. 10 in connection with the pending trial in Chicago of Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla, who was arrested by Mexican officials in 2009 and extradited to the United States in 2010.
Officials allege in the documents that Zambada-Niebla is a high-ranking member of the Sinaloa drug cartel led by Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman-Loera.
The Sinaloa drug cartel has been at war with the Juárez drug cartel to take over the drug trade in the El Paso area. Its battle against the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes drug cartel killed an estimated 9,100 people in Juárez between Jan. 1, 2008 and Oct. 31.
The court documents also identify German Olivares as Guzman's coordinator for the Juárez smuggling corridor.
Zambada-Niebla's lawyers -- some based in Tucson, New York and other areas -- claim a "public authority" defense, alleging that U.S. authorities allowed Zambada-Niebla to traffic tons of cocaine and heroin into the United States in exchange for information about rival drug cartels.
His defense lawyers also sought to prevent government prosecutors from using the Classified Information Protection Act to exclude certain records and witness information that may threaten U.S. national security.
According to a conversation recorded by Margarito Flores, a cooperating witness, "Guzman-Loera and Ismael Zambada-Garcia (Zambada-Niebla's father) discussed the recent arrest of Zambada-Garcia's brother, Jesus Zambada-Garcia É by Mexican authorities."
"This government is letting the gringos (American law enforcement) do whatever they want," Zambada-Garcia said according to Flores.
Then, Guzman said, "They are (expletive) us everywhere. What are we going to do?"
Guzman, whom Interpol has listed as one of the world's most-wanted fugitives, added, "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)."
According to the documents, Zambada-Niebla then told Flores to find U.S. soldiers returning from the war in the Middle East who can obtain weapons.
"We don't want Middle Eastern or Asian guns, we want big U.S. guns, or RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). É You know what I'm talking about. We don't need one, we need a lot of them, 20, 30, a lot of them."
Zambada-Niebla made it clear that money was no object when it came to the weapons.
The meeting allegedly took place three years ago with Guzman at an undisclosed mountaintop compound in Northern Mexico.
Documents allege that brothers Margarito and Pedro Flores were drug traffickers in the Chicago area and imported large quantities of cocaine and heroin from Guzman's Sinaloa drug cartel. At some point, the brothers became cooperating witnesses and informants for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's investigation.
U.S. officials have alleged that the Sinaola cartel used Chicago to extend its influence internationally.
Earlier this year, Zambada-Niebla's defense alleged in court filings that he was allowed to smuggle tons of cocaine into the United States from 2004 until his arrest in 2009.
Zambada-Niebla claims that he had Guzman's permission to help U.S. agents, and that a Mexican lawyer named Humberto Loya-Castro acted as the liaison for such alleged negotiations between the Sinaloa cartel and U.S. authorities.
Loya-Castro, a former high-ranking Sinaloa cartel associate, had his 1995 U.S. drug-trafficking case dismissed in 2008 after serving as an informant for 10 years for the U.S. government, according to court documents.
In one of the recent court filings, Loya-Castro said that a DEA agent named "Manny" allegedly was his handler. "In 2009, Manny informed Loya-Castro that the federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., and the DEA had agreed that Mr. Zambada-Niebla's charges would also be dismissed and he would not be subject to prosecution in exchange for information."
U.S. officials have denied that Zambada-Niebla was promised any kind of immunity from prosecution.
The agent identified only as "Manny" later allegedly contacted Loya-Castro to let him know that Manny could not testify for the defense, according to the court filing.
The document also said that Manny told him that if his and the cartel's relationship with him and the U.S. government were exposed, and if Mr. Loya-Castro's activities in providing information on other rival cartel leaders was exposed, it would be bad not only for Loya-Castro but also the U.S. government, because they didn't want anyone to know about their relationship with the heads of the Sinaloa cartel.
The DEA agent allegedly also told Loya-Castro to tell Guzman and his associates that the defense lawyers' tactics were bad and could endanger them, the documents said.
Zambada-Niebla's lawyers also argued in their pleadings that U.S. agents did not use their contacts within the Sinaloa cartel to tell them where Guzman was so he could be arrested. U.S. authorities have investigated Guzman-Loera since 1995.
To advance their argument, the defense lawyers cited an article in Foreign Affairs in which former DEA chief Robert C. Bonner says that U.S. authorities used a similar strategy of pitting cartel leaders against each other against Pablo Escobar, the Colom bian drug kingpin-politician who was killed in a shootout in 1993.
According to court documents, the Flores brothers were able to order drugs from the Sinaloa cartel on credit, and they had to provide law enforcement records to the cartel whenever one of their drug loads was seized.
The court documents also said that Zambada-Niebla coordinated the transportation of drug shipments, and was observed with "a radio with which to contact the Mexican police to secure safe passage of the cocaine load."
On another occasion, the documents said, during a meeting in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Zambada-Niebla used a Nextel-type radiophone to speak to one of his workers.
"Zambada-Niebla informed his worker that there was a new 'comandante' law enforcement commander, in Culiacan.
"Zambada-Niebla ordered his worker to bring the comandante to (him) for a meeting. (Cooperating witness D) heard Zambada-Niebla say, in words or substance, 'he (the comandante) is either going to work with us, or you know what will happen to him,'" the documents stated.
The Sinaloa cartel had several 747 jetliners it used to transport cocaine from Central or South America, the court documents said. At one point, using these airplanes, "The Sinaloa cartel arranged to have shipments of clothing sent to Central and South America as part of a humanitarian aid project."
The trip involved dropping off clothing at the Central or South American airports, and placing up to 13 tons of cocaine in the plane for the return trip to the Mexico City airport.