Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Vacated on appeal: Zetas convicted of ICE agent murder, win new sentencing

Chivis Martinez Borderland Beat   

The conviction of the two Zetas was vacated on January 21, 2020 and sentences sent  to a lower court for limited re-sentencing.

Jose Emanuel Garcia Sota, aka Juan Manuel Maldonado Amezcua, Zafado or Safado, 34, of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, was charged on May 6, 2013, in a four-count indictment with one count of murder of an officer or employee of the United States; one count of attempted murder of an officer or employee of the United States; one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person; and one count of using, carrying, brandishing and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence causing death.

ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata was murdered by members of Los Zetas in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, on Feb 15, 2011.  Special Agent Victor Avila suffered critical injuries; they were ambushed by gunfire while on assignment in Mexico.

The agents came under attack by the cartel members while driving on Highway 57, while the Zetas were conducting a narco carjacking operation.  
Attorneys for the defendants  argue that no physical evidence ties them to the shooting and that they are being linked only by the sometimes conflicting accusations of former Zetas  who pleaded guilty and are cooperating to avoid life without parole in U.S. prisons when they are sentenced.

One of those arrested and charged with being the leader of  the group is Julian Zapata Espinoza, 37, aka“El Piolin,”.  He pleaded guilty in 2013.  He says he lead  two, four-man hit squads.

Espinoza said he didn’t see the Chevy Suburban’s diplomatic plates, or understand Avila’s shouts that they were with the U.S. Embassy and diplomats.

As it turns out a flaw in the design of the $160k USD armored Suburban, was the reason gunfire was able to kill and injure the agents.

The SUV was built to withstand high-velocity gunfire, grenades and land mines. However, when put in park, its doors unlocked automatically, a flaw never unaddressed by  the U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

When Espinoza yanked the handle, the driver’s side door opened.

Everyone was stunned.

The shock gave Zapata time to pull shut his door. But surrounded at gunpoint, confused and perhaps fumbling to relock the doors, Avila, the surviving agent testified, the bulletproof window near him somehow lowered a couple of inches.

Just enough to stick in two barrels, two guns, an AR-15 rifle and a hand gun.

 The attackers kept telling the agents to open the door,  Avila says  “At that moment, they opened fire.”
On November 6, 2017 the two Zetas were sentenced to Life sentences for the murder and attempted murder of the agents.

The defendants, “Zafado,” 36, of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, and Jesus Ivan Quezada Piña, aka “Loco,” 29, of Matamoros, Mexico, are among seven Mexican nationals who were extradited to the United States on federal charges in this case.  

On July 27th 2017 the two were found guilty by a jury, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and sentenced by the Honorable Judge Royce C. Lamberth.

What the government said after the sentencing:
“The sentences handed down today should serve as a powerful message to drug cartels and other transnational criminal organizations that there is no escape from justice, and that we will not rest until they have been held accountable for their crimes to the fullest extent of the law,” said ICE Acting Director Homan.  “We remain grateful to the government of Mexico, the Department of Justice, and all our partners involved in sending these murderers to prison.  The men and women of ICE will not forget the example of bravery and sacrifice set by Special Agent Zapata as we work to eradicate these criminal networks across the globe.”The defendants were found guilty of four federal offenses: murder of an officer or employee of the United States; attempted murder of an officer or employee of the United States; attempted murder of an internationally protected person; and using, carrying and brandishing and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence causing death.  During the trial  the government presented testimony from 22 witnesses, including Special Agent Avila. According to the government’s evidence at trial, Garcia Sota and Quezada Piña were members of two Los Zetas hit squads, or “estacas,” and were on a mission on the day of the shootings to steal vehicles for use in the cartel’s operations.  On the afternoon of Feb. 15, 2011, Garcia Sota and Quezada Piña were among a group of cartel members who targeted an armored Chevrolet Suburban bearing diplomatic plates and driven by the special agents on a busy highway south of San Luis Potosi.  Special Agent Zapata and Special Agent Avila were on official business, heading southbound to Mexico City, when the attack took place.  During the ambush, the cartel members fired at and into the agents’ vehicle with handguns and semiautomatic assault weapons, including AK-47 and AR-15 type assault rifles.  Special Agent Zapata, 32, was fatally shot, and Special Agent Avila, then 38, was wounded.  Investigators later found approximately 90 shell casings at the scene, according to the trial evidence. 
Five other defendants previously pleaded guilty to federal charges in this case and are to be sentenced tomorrow.  Ruben Dario Venegas Rivera, aka “Catracho,” 29; Jose Ismael Nava Villagran, aka “Cacho,” 35; Julian Zapata Espinoza, aka “Piolin,” 36; and Alfredo Gaston Mendoza Hernandez, aka “Camaron,” 34, pleaded guilty to federal murder and attempted murder charges between August 2011 and October 2016.  The fifth defendant, Francisco Carbajal Flores, aka “Dalmata,” 42, pleaded guilty in January 2012 to conspiracy to conduct the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity and to being an accessory after the fact to the murder and attempted murder of the ICE HSI agents.  All of the defendants are Mexican nationals, with the exception of Venegas Rivera, who is from Honduras.


  1. Rest in peace. But wasn't he killed by the SAME guns the U.S government flooded mexican cartels with? Or is it a different incident?

  2. "Send a powerful message" up my ass! We've been sending these messages for many years now and the murder and mayhem is worse than ever, prisons are full with millions (literally) of inmates and the streets are over-flowing with drugs!

    These officials only care about their careers and their budgets!

  3. Feel sorry for those who will bear the wrath of American justice.
    Innocent or guilty; the punishment will be a severe one.

    1. Ahh don't feel sad or sorry, these heartless criminals have killed many people.

  4. Replies
    1. Yes hugs AND fight against corruption, he is the first since decades fighting corruption. Just more guns isnt helpdefull.
      Or why have the US of A a similar number of homicides?
      The land of the ass LOL.

  5. If you kill a DEA/Ice agent the wrath of America will find you. These zeta's are lucky the CIA didnt kill them first.

    1. Calm down keyboard warrior

    2. 7:15 The CIA sure found their recruiters...memember.
      The GAFES were trained to do counter-revolutionary Anti-Zapatista work before they got sent to Tamaulipas to do revolutionary drug trafficking work themselves, The Schools of the Assassins trained their instructors, the Guatemalan Kaibiles of SOA distinguished graduates generals Otto Peres Molina and his boss, General efrain rios montt...

    3. 7:52 Except there's a fatal flaw with your claim. That elite training was what the founding members had. After the ranks changed due to deaths and imprisonment, the remaining leaders were low level foot soldiers who worked their way up. Sure, some got trained by those people but it was nowhere near as cutting edge as the founders' training.

  6. Excelent investigation glad they will serve time in prison. Must get boring each day in a 8X12 cell, nothing to do, killing carreer is over.

  7. The one personally responsible for the murder is some dude they call Comandante Piolin not the defendants mentioned

  8. Poor guy got killed with the "fast and FURIOUS" guns from 🇺🇸.. What a shame.. Who's to blame?

  9. I'm confused by this article and it would help if you define vacated in this context. Are they getting lighter sentences ?

  10. 9:11 the fall guys are always left with the shitty end in their hands, this death squad had vehicles, and the attack was because they confused these foreigners with some rival opposing contra cartel, no decent Mexican rides troques like that in mexico.
    All who participated share the punishment equally, but some cases have found it viable that 100 years punishment get split among 10 participants, (10 years a piece) or consolidate three murders into one case and give murderers with a murdering record and time behind bars: 10 years for three murders bargains.
    --If you are a self appointed "Captain" of a neighborhood watch like george Zimmerman, have your own gun and a license to carry and work on occasion as a security guard on a tavern somewhere, you get to kill with impunity, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations, no matter that you was told NOT TO PURSUE a suspect,
    Please don't forget to add that the weapons used in the killing of agent Zapata were illegally sold and trafficked by greedy US weapons dealers that care only for some profit off all those drug deals mexican cartels do with un-official complicity of both governments.

  11. Blame the almighty US corrupt government...

  12. Mencho millie is hating again.Post a million comments and some will get through,you give chivis hard work guaranteed

    1. 3:59 you distinguish yourself for nothing but your sore ass.
      No millie was mentioned anywhere, just FACTS.

  13. The cartel's will be labeled terrorists before the end of trumps second term. Surely they will do something brazen to more Americans and seal their own fate.

  14. he knew the risk associated to his job, technically he got himself killed.

    1. Emiliano Zapata didn't know what he signed for, he expected some risks, but not after surrendering to peace, same as Cesar Augusto Sandino and general cristero Goroztieta.
      --On the US, special agent Jaime Zapata knew there were risks involved, he knew of Kiki Camarena, but he never expected to be killed with weapons trafficked by US to the mexican cartels.

  15. Mencho article in Rolling Stone magazine

  16. They never thought about the doors automatically unlocking..haha..what a joke. 160k for that clown mobile??

  17. What the heck is ICE doing in central Mexico??? Just like the DEA agent killed in 1985 in Guadalajara, DOESN’T matter who you are if you go deep into a war zone you are risking getting WACKED


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