The conviction of Ismael Zambada-Imperial, son of the Sinaloa Cartel's top leader, in the United States may be a headline-grabber but does nothing to blunt the group's ability to bring drugs into the country.
On April 30, Ismael Zambada-Imperial, alias “Mayito Gordo,” pleaded guilty to importing cocaine, marijuana and heroin from Mexico into the United States at a hearing in the Southern District of California. He has also agreed to forfeit $5 million in drug trafficking proceeds.
Zambada-Imperial, the son of Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Ismael Zambada García, alias “El Mayo,” was arrested in Culiacán, Sinaloa, in 2014 after Mexican authorities tracked his movements due to his frequent posts on social media, where he made lavish displays of wealth.
His lawyers fought to prevent his extradition to the United States but he was finally transferred to San Diego, California in December 2019.
SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel Profile
According to the Justice Department statement, Zambada-Imperial's arrest and subsequent conviction came as part of an investigation that began in 2011 concerning the Sinaloa Cartel smuggling drugs into National City and Chula Vista, California.
"This case is part of a multi-year investigation that, in total, has resulted in charges against over 125 people and has had a significant impact on the worldwide operations of the Sinaloa Cartel," read the statement.
He is the third of El Mayo's sons to be jailed in the United States on drug trafficking charges. Jesús Vicente Zambada Niebla, alias "El Vicentillo," was extradited in 2010 and was sentenced to 15 years in 2019, after testifying in the trial of Sinaloa kingpin, Joaquin Guzmán Loera, alias "El Chapo." And Serafín Zambada Ortiz was arrested in Nogales, Arizona, in 2013 but secured a relatively lenient five-year sentence and was released in 2018.
InSight Crime Analysis
The criminal landscape facing the Sinaloa Cartel has changed drastically since 2014, when Zambada-Imperial was arrested in Culiacán.
First, since El Chapo was jailed for life in the United States, not all has been well in the Sinaloa Cartel's upper echelons. While Zambada García has retained overall control of the group, it seems there has been a serious split between his supporters and those of Guzmán Loera's sons, collectively known as "Los Chapitos." There have been repeated outbreaks of violence between both sides in the state of Sinaloa, reportedly between partisans of both sides.
InSight Crime once reported on the speculation that El Mayo's sons, "Los Mayitos," could take over the reins of the group. But they have not shown the same cohesion as El Chapo's children. Now, with the conviction of Zambada-Imperial, the final son, Ismael Zambada Sicairos, alias "Mayito Flaco," has not been seen for a long time.
In contrast, none of Los Chapitos are currently under arrest or in prison.
When one of them, Ovidio Guzmán López, was briefly detained by Mexican troops in Culiacán in October 2019, armed gunmen poured onto the streets, paralyzed the city and forced his release.
Secondly, while the Sinaloa Cartel remains among the two powerful cartels in Mexico, its status has been challenged by the rapid and violent rise of the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG), which has made inroads into much of the center and the north of the country.
In recent years, the two groups have clashed in a number of Mexican states. These fights have been concentrated along states bordering the United States or in interior states through which drugs are moved, including Zacatecas, Sonora, Nayarit, Baja California and Chihuahua, as well as in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo.
While the Sinaloa Cartel remains under the leadership of Zambada García, its local bosses have broad decision-making power, which makes it difficult to estimate how much of an overall toll this violence has had on the group.
And while Zambada-Imperial was certainly once a power player in the Sinaloa Cartel, seven years is an age in criminal terms. His conviction is merited but means little to a group that has long left him behind.