Pubdate: Sat, 06 Aug 2011
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2011 Sun-Times Media, LLC

Vicente Zambada-Niebla, the son of one of Mexico's biggest drug 
kingpins, lived in the lap of luxury and had 24-hour armed security.

Zambada-Niebla allegedly oversaw the export of tons of narcotics into 
Chicago and other cities, using trains, ships, Boeing 747 cargo jets 
and even submarines.

But now he says that he, as well as other top members of the infamous 
Sinaloa Cartel, lived a secret life  one that should give him a 
get-out-of-jail-free card: He says he was a golden snitch for the 
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

In court documents, Zambada-Niebla says that DEA agents allowed him 
and other leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel to operate their drug 
business without interference. In exchange, he says, he and other 
Sinaloa Cartel members provided information to the DEA about rival 
drug cartels in Mexico.

And he says he was promised immunity from prosecution.

"The United States government considered the arrangements with the 
Sinaloa Cartel an acceptable price to pay because the principal 
objective was the destruction and dismantling of rival cartels by 
using the assistance of the Sinaloa Cartel,"  lawyers for 
Zambada-Niebla say in a court filing in U.S. District Court in Chicago.

U.S. authorities disregarded the fact that "tons of illicit drugs 
continued to be smuggled into Chicago and other parts of the United 
States and consumption continued virtually unabated,"  according to 
the court filing.

A war between the Sinaloa Cartel and its rivals has led to thousands 
of killings in Mexico in recent years.

Federal prosecutors deny that Zambada-Niebla acted with the 
permission of the U.S. government.

And they want a judge to block him from using that defense unless he 
can provide the names of the government officials who he says 
authorized him to import cocaine and heroin into the United States.

Even then, Zambada-Niebla is barred from using that as a defense 
unless he met directly with U.S. officials who approved his alleged 
criminal activity, prosecutors say.

Most of the Sinaloa Cartel's communications with the DEA were through 
a cartel lawyer, Humberto Loya-Castro, according to Zambada-Niebla. 
He says Loya-Castro fed information to agents about rival cartels 
starting before 2004. Criminal charges against Loya-Castro in San 
Diego were dropped in 2008 because of his cooperation, Zambada-Niebla says.

In March 2009, Loya-Castro arranged for Zambada-Niebla to meet DEA 
agents at a Sheraton Hotel in Mexico City, according to the court filing.

Zambada-Niebla says he gave the U.S. drug agents information about 
rival cartels and, in return, was assured that a pending indictment 
against him in Washington, D.C., would be dismissed and that he would 
be immune from further prosecution.

The next day, though, he was arrested by Mexican authorities in an 
upscale neighborhood in Mexico City along with five bodyguards armed 
with AR-15 assault rifles. He was then extradited to Chicago to face 
charges in what prosecutors have described as one of the largest 
narcotics cases ever brought here.

The indictment against Zambada-Niebla charges him and about three 
dozen other defendants with conspiring to import tons of cocaine and 
"multi-kilo"  quantities of heroin to Chicago and elsewhere between 
2005 and 2008. He is being held under high security in a federal 
lockup in downtown Chicago.

Zambada-Niebla claims that his cartel's criminal activities were 
sanctioned by the regional assistant for the DEA in South America, as 
well as by the general director of the DEA for Mexico and DEA agents 
in several Mexican cities including Monterrey, Hermosillo and Mexico 
City. He says in the court filing that agents from the FBI and U.S. 
Immigration and Customs Enforcement were involved, too.

He also says that DEA officials tipped Loya-Castro about U.S. and 
Mexican investigations, allowing top Sinaloa Cartel leaders such as 
Joaquin "Chapo"  Guzman-Loera and Zambada-Niebla's own father, Ismael 
"El Mayo"  Zambada, to avoid capture.

Those men, also charged in the Chicago case, remain fugitives. 
Guzman-Loera is considered one of the world's top drug kingpins.

"The United States government and its various agencies have a long 
history of providing benefits, permission and immunity to criminals 
and their organizations to commit crimes, including murder, in return 
for receiving information against other criminals," Zambada-Niebla's 
court filing says. "Perhaps no better example is the celebrated case 
of Whitey Bulger, the Boston crime boss and murderer, who, along with 
other members of criminal organizations, were given carte blanche by 
the FBI to commit murders in order to receive information about the 
Italian mafia and other criminal organizations in the New England area."

Bulger, 81, was arrested June 22 in California after 16 years on the 
lam. His FBI handler, former Boston FBI agent John Connolly Jr., was 
convicted of racketeering and obstruction of justice in 2002 for 
warning Bulger in 1994 that he was going to be indicted. Bulger is 
accused of killing 19 people.

As with Bulger, the U.S. government turned a blind eye to the crimes 
the Sinaloa Cartel committed, Zambada-Niebla says in his court filing.

Zambada-Niebla is seeking documents to show whether Sinaloa Cartel 
leaders received weapons as part of their alleged cooperation with U.S. agents.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago and the DEA both declined to 
comment on the case.
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