Friday, September 9, 2011

DEA officials deny they promised drug kingpin immunity

By Natasha Korecki Federal Courts Reporter/

Federal prosecutors on Friday denied a litany of allegations lodged by an imprisoned drug kingpin in one of the highest-profile drug prosecutions in the nation – but acknowledged that they’ve used a fugitive member of the same Mexican cartel as a cooperator.

Vicente Zambada-Niebla, the imprisoned son of one of Mexico’s biggest drug lords, last month charged that he was promised immunity from prosecution because he and other Sinaloa Cartel members, namely Sinaloa member and attorney Humberto Loya-Castro, were providing information to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He charged that the DEA looked the other way while his organization brought drugs into Chicago and elsewhere in exchange for information – something prosecutors denied.

Zambada-Niebla is being held in a downtown lockup, facing trial early next year for allegedly overseeing the export of tons of narcotics into Chicago and other cities, using trains, ships cargo jets and submarines. He claimed he did it with the OK of the DEA in exchange for information in what’s evolved into a bloody civil war in Mexico, including thousands of killings between warring cartels.

Friday’s prosecution filing said that while the DEA had authority to have private talks with Loya-Castro, they were prohibited from engaging in a similar contacts with Zambada-Niebla. 

The filing does confirm Zambada-Niebla’s assertion that Loya-Castro was a cooperator. Authorities say they used Loya-Castro as a “cooperating fugitive defendant,” while he was living in Mexico but still under indictment in the United States. Filings described a meeting in which Loya-Castro brought Zambada-Niebla to a hotel to meet agents, even after agents said they could not meet with him. 

“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,” prosecutors wrote in the Friday filings. 

They deny having an immunity agreement with Loya-Castro as well as Zambada-Niebla.

In a court filing last month, Zambada-Niebla said he gave 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. 

Zambada-Niebla, the son of Sinaloa leader Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, was charged with conspiring to import tons of cocaine and “multi-kilo” quantities of heroin to Chicago and elsewhere between 2005 and 2008. Zambada-Niebla is being held under the highest of security measures – conditions he has recently complained about in court filings. 

Zambada-Niebla made sweeping claims in court documents, including that Sinaloa was tied to the ATF’s controversial Fast and Furious investigation. It’s a claim prosecutors called “meritless considering that the conspiracy for which he is charged had ended and defendant had been in custody for months before the Fast and Furious investigation even began.”