U.S. federal agents allegedly allowed the Sinaloa drug cartel to traffic several tons of cocaine into the United States in exchange for information about rival cartels, according to court documents filed in a U.S. federal court.
The allegations are part of the defense of Vicente Zambada-Niebla, who was extradited to the United States to face drug-trafficking charges in Chicago. He is also a top lieutenant of drug kingpin Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman and the son of Ismael “Mayo” Zambada-Garcia, believed to be the brains behind the Sinaloa cartel.
The case could prove to be a bombshell on par with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ “Operation Fast and Furious,” except that instead of U.S. guns being allowed to walk across the border, the Sinaloa cartel was allowed to bring drugs into the United States. Zambada-Niebla claims he was permitted to smuggle drugs from 2004 until his arrest in 2009.
Randall Samborn, assistant U.S. attorney and spokesman for the Justice Department in Chicago, declined comment.
The court in Chicago had a status hearing on Wednesday and ordered the government to respond to allegations in Zambada-Niebla’s motion by Sept. 11.
According to the court documents, Mexican lawyer Humberto Loya-Castro, another high-level Sinaloa cartel leader, had his 1995 U.S. drug-trafficking case dismissed in 2008 after serving as an informant for 10 years for the U.S. government.
Guzman and the Zambadas allegedly provided agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with information about other Mexican drug traffickers through Loya-Castro.
“Loya himself continued his drug trafficking activities with the knowledge of the United States government without being arrested or prosecuted,” the court documents state.
Zambada-Niebla met voluntarily with U.S. federal agents on March 17, 2009, at the Sheraton Hotel in Mexico City, which is near the U.S. Embassy, “for the purpose of his continuing to provide information to the DEA and the U.S. government personally, rather than through Loya,” court records allege.
“DEA agents (then) told Loya-Castro to tell Mr. Zambada-Niebla that they wanted to continue the same arrangements with him as they had with Mr. Loya-Castro.”
Five hours after the meeting, Mexican authorities arrested Zambada-Niebla and extradited him later to the United States. His father and Guzman are fugitives.
The court documents also allege that the U.S. government is using a “divide and conquer” strategy, “using one drug organization to help against others.”
Zambada-Niebla’s motion seeks U.S. government records about the 2003 Juárez case involving an informant who participated in several homicides for the Carrillo-Fuentes drug cartel, while under ICE’s supervision.
He also requested records about the ATF’s “Operation Fast and Furious,” which permitted weapons purchased illegally in the United States to be smuggled into Mexico, sometimes by paid U.S. informants and cartel leaders.
“It is estimated that approximately 3,000 people were killed in Mexico as a result of ‘Operation Fast and Furious,’ including law enforcement officers in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, the headquarters of the Sinaloa cartel,” the court documents allege. “The Department of Justice’s leadership apparently saw this as an ingenious way of combating drug cartel activities.”