Sunday, April 24, 2016
After decades at ‘supermax,’ Mexican cartel capo gets transfer
After nearly 20 years in the so-called federal “supermax,” where some of the nation’s most notorious inmates are kept, Garcia Abrego was recently transferred to a high-security penitentiary, according to federal records.
“It is like dying and going to heaven,” said Jack T. Donson, a consultant who retired from U.S. Bureau of Prisons. “It is definitely a positive thing” for an inmate.
Garcia Abrego, 71, who was the first cartel leader to make the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, was convicted in 1996 by a federal jury in Houston.
U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. gave him 11 life sentences in 1997 and fined him $128 million.
The high-security penitentiary is housed on the same sprawling complex in Colorado as the supermax but affords privileges and a new lifestyle that the supermax does not, according to a Bureau of Prisons handbook for inmates.
The former drug boss, who a generation ago took his cartel to the top of Mexico’s underworld, will now be able to interact with other prisoners.
He faces the possibility of a bunk bed and a cell mate, instead of what amounted to solitary confinement.
He will also be able to walk around the prison without wearing shackles and without having a guard escort, to mix with the prison’s general population, and to have access to places such as a chapel and gymnasium.
Meals will be taken at a dining hall rather than a cell.
Until the transfer, the capo once known for wearing baseball caps and Rolex watches did all his time in the prison nicknamed “supermax” for its tough security. It is home to the Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and former FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who was convicted of espionage.
Garcia Abrego’s Texas lawyers and the Bureau of Prisons declined to comment on the transfer.
The adjustment after so many years alone can be intense for an inmate, but Garcia Abrego should do fine, Donson said.
“This is a criminal subculture,” said Donson, who worked in the federal prison system for 23 years. “He is a high-level cartel guy; he will gravitate to whatever gang has a previously established relationship with his cartel, and my guess is he’ll be a rock star.”
Unlike many of today’s captured drug cartel leaders, Garcia Abrego was bound by old-school codes and did not pursue any deals at the time of his arrest that would have brought him leniency in exchange for sharing his secrets.