Mexico extradites alleged heir-apparent of powerful Sinaloa drug cartel to US

OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ (Associated Press)
February 18, 2010

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A man accused of being an influential, second-generation member of the Sinaloa drug cartel was extradited from Mexico to the United States on Thursday on charges he helped move tons of cocaine from Colombia to California, New York and Chicago.

Vicente Zambada Niebla was turned over to U.S. authorities at the international bridge connecting Matamoros to Brownsville, Texas, Mexico’s attorney general’s office announced.

Zambada’s father, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, controls the cartel along with Mexico’s most wanted drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, according to law enforcement officials.

The younger Zambada assumed major new powers in the Sinaloa cartel in 2008, with control over logistics and the authority to order assassinations, authorities say.

Zambada Niebla was arrested last year at a home in an elite Mexico City neighborhood.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago announced Thursday afternoon that Zambada-Niebla had arrived in Chicago and was scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo.

Zambada-Niebla, 34, is one of three dozen defendants indicted in Chicago in August 2009 on what prosecutors described as the largest international narcotics conspiracy cases in Chicago’s history. The indictment accuses the Sinaloa cartel of importing tons of cocaine and large amounts of heroin into the United States.

“This is an extremely significant development in the United States’ effort to prosecute international drug importation conspiracies wherever the defendants may be operating,” said Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. attorney in Chicago.

The U.S. indictment accuses both Vicente and Ismael Zambada of using planes, boats, trucks and cars to move nearly $50 million worth of cocaine from Colombia to New York, New Jersey, Chicago and California between August 2001 and June 2002.

Vicente Zambada apparently rose through cartel ranks after supervising the unloading of cocaine from ships off the Mexican coast and verifying quantities coming from Colombia, according to the indictment.

Mexico’s drug cartels are increasingly on the defensive as the U.S. and Mexico mount a cross-border crackdown.

After taking office on Dec. 1, 2006, Calderon sent thousands of soldiers and federal police to drug strongholds across Mexico in an attempt to bring warring gangs under control.

Calderon launched his crackdown in his home state of Michoacan where on Thursday authorities found the decapitated bodies of five men and one woman.

The bodies and heads were found Thursday inside a car abandoned in the capital city of Morelia, Michoacan state prosecutors said in a statement.

Several of the bodies have a “Z” carved on their backs in an apparent reference to the Zetas drug gang, prosecutors said.

The Zetas have been involved in bloody confrontations with the Michoacan based La Familia drug cartel, in a drug war that has cost more than 15,000 lives nationwide in three years.

The Zetas are based is the border state of Tamaulipas across from Texas.

Associated Press Writer Mike Robinson in Chicago contributed to this report.

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