An investigation by El Universal has found that between the years 2000 and 2012, the U.S. government had an arrangement with Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel that allowed the organization to smuggle billions of dollars of drugs in exchange for information on rival cartels.
Sinaloa, led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, supplies 80% of the drugs entering the Chicago area and has a presence in cities across the U.S.
But the El Universal investigation is the first to publish court documents that include corroborating testimony from a DEA agent and a Justice Department official.
The written statements were made to the U.S. District Court in Chicago in relation to the arrest of Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla, the son of Sinaloa leader Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada and allegedly the Sinaloa cartel’s “logistics coordinator.”
Here’s what DEA agent Manuel Castanon told the Chicago court:
“On March 17, 2009, I met for approximately 30 minutes in a hotel room in Mexico City with Vincente Zambada-Niebla and two other individuals — DEA agent David Herrod and a cooperating source [Sinaloa lawyer Loya Castro] with whom I had worked since 2005. … I did all of the talking on behalf of [the] DEA.”
A few hours later, Mexican Marines arrested Zambada-Niebla (a.k.a. “El Vicentillo”) on charges of trafficking more than a billion dollars in cocaine and heroin. Castanon and three other agents then visited Zambada-Niebla in prison, where the Sinaloa officer “reiterated his desire to cooperate.”
El Universal, citing court documents, reports that DEA agents met with high-level Sinaloa officials more than 50 times since 2000.
Then-Justice Department prosecutor Patrick Hearn told the Chicago court that, according to DEA special agent Steve Fraga, Castro “provided information leading to a 23-ton cocaine seizure, other seizures related to “various drug trafficking organizations,” and that “El Mayo” Zambada wanted his son to cooperate with the U.S.