In yesterday's hearing, an admitted former Mexican cartel member described how he first met the notorious drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman when he helped him evade a manhunt.
Jesus Zambada identified Guzman in the courtroom and told jurors he "was one of the most powerful drug-traffickers in Mexico," detailing how the Sianola cartel made massive profits by smuggling ton-upon-ton of cocaine into the United States.
Zambada — a 57-year-old trained accountant who was arrested in 2008 and is still in US custody — was the first of several cooperators expected to give jurors an inside look at a cartel with a legendary lust for drugs, cash and violence.
The testimony being heard today is from Juses Reynaldo Zambada, 57, who is the brother of drug lord Ismael Zambada.
Mr Zambada — the one testifying — was extradited to the United States from Mexico in 2012, and has been cooperating with American authorities. He has been giving an inner look into the operations of the Sinaloa cartel, which he said has made billions of dollars selling heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine.
El Mayo’s younger brother Jesus Zambada Garcia, nicknamed El Rey or The King, was the first of 16 cooperating witnesses expected to be called to testify in the trial, which kicked off Tuesday at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn.
El Rey is in a unique position to divulge the Sinaloa cartel’s inner workings. He spoke for nearly three hours on Wednesday, laying out in painstaking detail how his brother El Mayo, El Chapo, and other leaders worked together to import tons of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico and smuggle it into the United States.
El Rey, who was arrested in Mexico in 2008 and extradited to New York in 2012, took the stand wearing a jail uniform: a blue smock with orange long johns underneath. He looked to be in his early 60s, with close-cropped gray hair, stubble on his cheeks, and eyeglasses propped on the bridge of his nose. He spoke matter-of-factly about his drug trafficking exploits, and the testimony often felt carefully choreographed.
Asked by federal prosecutor Gina Parlovecchio to describe the arrangement between his brother and El Chapo, El Rey replied, “It was a working relationship, a partnership for the importation of cocaine, drug trafficking.”
El Rey said he joined the Sinaloa cartel in 1987, when he “established an accounting system for collecting payments from cocaine clients in the U.S.” He worked his way up the ranks and eventually controlled a warehouse in Mexico City that imported 80-100 tons of cocaine per year, “100 percent” of which he said was shipped across the border to the United States.
“I controlled the airport in Mexico City and I controlled the authorities to provide security for drug trafficking movements that occurred in the city and to provide security for drug trafficking leaders,” he testified.
El Rey testified that he met El Chapo in 2001, shortly after the Sinaloa cartel leader’s first escape from prison in Mexico. El Rey said El Chapo was about to be recaptured by the Mexican military, so he and El Mayo swooped in to rescue him with a helicopter.
For most of the testimony, which was delivered in Spanish and relayed to the court through a translator, El Chapo, who was wearing a suit and tie, sat stone-faced at the defense table. During a mid-afternoon break, the two men stared momentarily at each other and El Chapo gave his former associate a brief nod. Later in the afternoon, as El Rey explained the cocaine business, El Chapo rocked in his seat and clenched his fist in front of his face.
El Rey testified that in the ‘90s he imported cocaine to Mexico City through the resort city of Cancún. He said he paid off the Mexican Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Highway Police to guard the shipments as they were transported over land, usually hidden inside gas tankers owned by his brother. El Chapo and other cartel leaders would work together to smuggle the drugs, he said.
“Everything is always shared among the members of the cartel when one or the other would need it,” El Rey testified.
He explained how a kilo of cocaine could be purchased for $3,000 per kilo in Colombia and sold for $35,000 in New York. Cartel leaders would often partner on shipments of up to 30 tons of cocaine, an arrangement that could net each investor $48 million. El Rey said he personally invested in a shipment that was over 2.5 tons, while El Mayo and El Chapo would regular go half and half on 6-ton shipments.
He detailed the hierarchical structure of the cartel, explaining that El Mayo, El Chapo, and a handful of other leaders sat on top, controlling sub-leaders, workers, and corrupt government officials. They pooled resources and shared smuggling routes north through Mexico, and told the jury that at its peak in the 90s the cartel controlled nearly every key border crossing into the United States.
El Rey said the last time he spoke to El Chapo was 2008, when his brother was visiting in Mexico City. The testimony ended for the day with the prosecution still questioning the witness. He’s expected to return to the stand Thursday.
Day 3 Thursday testimony
Jesus Zambada Niebla, former operations chief of the Sinaloa cartel, testified this morning that in the early 2000s he personally spent $300,000 A MONTH bribing Mexican officials. He spread the bribes across the state and federal levels.
Zambada said the most important bribes on the state level were usually paid to state governors and state atty generals, the directors of the judicial police and the municipal police.
On the federal level, he said, he routinely bribed the commander of the PGR (the atty general's office), the federal highway police (which also controlled ports & airports), the district judicial police and Interpol.
He said in 2004 Chapo had him bring $100,000 to a General Toledano (sp?) who at the time worked in Guerrero so that the cartel could more easily import Colombian coke on the seashore.
Zambada also said he often paid off the military, including the Special Forces.
El Mayo's brother still testifying. Described corruption at virtually every level of Mexican law enforcement, including the attorney general's office, military generals, and many others.
Said he personally paid $300K per month in bribes.
El Mayo's brother testified that the cartel also bribed officials from INTERPOL in Mexico.
He said El Mayo and El Chapo were responsible for paying $500K bribes to top government officials and military leaders, usually through attorneys.
El Mayo's brother on corruption:
"This is done through bribes, money — especially US dollars. Normally it's police, you know for many years who are trusted people. They introduce new police to work for the cartel through lawyers and professionals."
El Mayo's brother described how El Chapo instructed him to bribe a Mexican military general. He was ordered to send $100K "as a gift and to send hima hug and notify him he'd be working" in the state of Guerrero, where the general was in charge.
El Mayo's brother on how he knew about bribes:
"I realized that because I was managing the money in Mexico City, he would say give half a million dollars to an attorney who will give it to the director of the PGR or another half million to a general"
PGR is the Mexican AG.
Testimony this morning also covered the "plaza" system in Mexico, where the cartel controlled various territories across Mexico. El Mayo's brother said Chapo ran the Sinaloa plaza and gave orders to bosses all over the country.
Testimony also covered drug tunnels and smuggling through Ciudad Juarez. They used tractor trailers and cars w/ hidden compartments to cross drugs from Juarez into El Paso.
Break ended with discussion of wars over plazas. More expected to come next. Stay tuned.
Zambada Garcia said members of rival cartels who tried to sell in territories run by the Sinaloa Cartel would end up dead if they didn’t gain permission from the leaders.
“There can be incidents,” he said. “There can be confrontations — people killed — fights.”
He testified about the lucrative Golden Triangle — the Mexican states of Sinaloa, Durango, and Chihuahua — which produces the majority of opium and marijuana in the country and boasts long shores where drug shipments could easily be received from Colombia
“‘Durado’ means gold, and gold means money,” Zambada Garcia explained. “And heroin and marijuana produce a lot of money.”
Zambada testified about Juan “El Azul” Esparragoza--who is believed to have been somewhat of a mentor to Chapo. El Azul "was one of the oldest drug dealers in Sinaloa, and one of the most respected there,” he said, adding he "supported” El Chapo to “become a great drug dealer.”
i recall mamito in the austin trial he refused to play along even tho he was CW...he was like "sure" "if you say so" it was funny stuff. he had a proverbial gun in his back but he wasn't going to be owned. that was a great trial almost a dozen defendants.
The way I see it.... the more people that don't like me, the less people I have to please