Witness testimony from a former close associate of El Chapo and the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico has uncovered new details of the kingpin’s criminal activities and reach, which could all but spell the end of the defense’s hopes of convincing the jury of their client’s innocence.
In the ongoing US trial of former Sinaloa Cartel capo Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo,” testimony from Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla, alias “El Vicentillo,” revealed that the drug lord allegedly maintained contacts within the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which El Vicentillo later used to his own benefit, The New York Times reported.
El Vicentillo, the son of Sinaloa Cartel leader Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia -- one of the DEA’s most wanted criminals -- testified that he met with his father and El Chapo in 2007 to discuss his departure from the organization. El Chapo offered to put Zambada Niebla in touch with his “contacts” in the DEA. Within two years, he allegedly met with DEA agents in Mexico.
In 2009, authorities arrested El Vicentillo in Mexico City and later extradited him to the United States to face drug trafficking charges in Chicago. He admitted he was a “trusted lieutenant for his father.” He pleaded guilty for his role in the cartel’s drug trafficking operations in 2013.
SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel News and Profile
However, El Vicentillo alleged that he started working as a spy for the DEA shortly after meeting with agents in Mexico by “trading information on his rivals in exchange for the ability to run his business freely,” according to The New York Times. Both El Chapo and El Mayo allegedly passed information on their allies and rivals to the DEA, according to Zambada Niebla.
“In essence,” his lawyers argued in a 2011 pretrial motion, “the United States Government entered into a conspiracy with one of the largest drug cartels in the world.”
El Vicentillo also testified on the extent of and to whom the Sinaloa Cartel paid bribes. The cartel set aside some $1 million per month, according to him, to bribe high-ranking security officials across nearly two decades in the administrations of former Mexican presidents Ernesto Zedillo, Vicente Fox, and Felipe Calderón, among others.
InSight Crime Analysis
Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla is not just any cooperating witness. He is the son of one of the Sinaloa Cartel’s top leaders and started working for the organization as a teen. The Sinaloa Cartel is in El Vicentillo’s blood. Few were arguably as close to the cartel’s highest echelons of power, and his testimony may be the final blow that sinks El Chapo’s defense altogether.
From the get-go, El Chapo’s defense team has tried to deflect attention away from their client and onto corrupt officials and other prominent figures within the Sinaloa Cartel. The defense argues that El Mayo is the true leader while El Chapo is simply the victim of a plot to frame him.
However, the prosecution has presented several damning pieces of evidence that point directly to the contrary. El Vicentillo’s testimony is just the latest indication that El Chapo’s defense strategy is struggling to stay afloat.
Among the most incriminating pieces of evidence admitted by the prosecution was “the infamous Rolling Stone video.” Filmed in January 2016 during a heavily criticized interview conducted by American actor Sean Penn with El Chapo, prosecutors played two clips where the former capo explains, in his own words, how he got started in the drug business and how he grew and expanded his operations from prison.
SEE ALSO: El Chapo Profile
But this isn’t the only evidence presented by prosecutors of El Chapo’s alleged direct connections to the international drug trade.
In one wiretapped phone call played by the prosecution, El Chapo is heard negotiating a six-ton cocaine shipment with members of the now mostly demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) guerrilla group.
In another, twin brothers Margarito and Pedro Flores from Chicago -- key associates of the Sinaloa Cartel’s drug trafficking operations who trafficked “hundreds of kilograms” of the cartel’s drugs -- can be heard arranging a heroin shipment with Alfredo Guzmán, alias “Alfredillo,” on behalf of his father, El Chapo.
All of this adds to evidence from the trial detailing the billion dollar fortune El Chapo allegedly amassed through his criminal activities, his propensity for extreme violence and his apparent leadership role at the top of the Sinaloa Cartel.
It is very likely that El Chapo will spend the rest of his life in jail. The wiretapped phone calls and explosive witness testimony have called his lawyers’ defense that he was merely a “cartel middle manager” into question. But El Vicentillo's testimony may be what seals El Chapo’s fate for good.