Last February the U.S. extradited the son of one of the most powerful cartel leaders in Mexico to stand trial in Chicago for cocaine trafficking. The capture of Vicente Zambada-Niebla, son of Sinaloa cartel leader Ismail “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, is the DOJ’s highest-profile catch in years and a nominal drug war victory. But in July, Zambada turned the tables on his captors by claiming that he had “public authority” to traffic cocaine into the U.S. over a span of five years in exchange for providing intelligence on his rivals. For nearly two months the Justice Department declined to comment, fueling speculation that “Operation Fast and Furious,” a gun-smuggling operation conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Phoenix, was part of a trend of state-sanctioned law-breaking. The DOJ’s eventual response, filed September 11, did little to assuage those concerns. Prosecutors admitted that Zambada’s lawyer in Mexico had been a confidential informant for the DEA, supplying intel that the Sinaloa cartel had gathered on its competitors to U.S. law enforcement. Prosecutors also admitted that Zambada’s lawyer had in fact arranged a meeting between his client and the DEA in 2009, but that the meeting was supposed to have been cancelled at the last minute.
“The agents who met with defendant were expressly ordered by the highest ranking DEA official in Mexico not to even meet with (Zambada-Niebla), and no official with actual authority, namely the United States Attorney General or a United States Attorney, authorized agents to promise defendant immunity,” the filing read.
If that claim sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve heard it before.