US Prosecutors Seeking to Prevent Dirty Secrets of Drug War From Surfacing in Cartel Leader's Case
US Government Using National Security to Conceal Evidence, Attorneys for Narco-Trafficker Zambada Niebla Claim
The criminal case of accused Sinaloa drug organization leader Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla is straying even further into the path of a cover-up under the guise of national security, if pleadings filed by his attorneys are to be believed.
Lawyers for the alleged Mexican narco-trafficker, son of one of the top figures in the Sinaloa “cartel,” recently filed a motion asking the court to block U.S. prosecutors’ efforts to exclude the defense from discussions with the judge over the treatment of evidence deemed classified material. Zambada Niebla’s attorneys contend they must be part of those discussions since the supposed classified material goes to the heart of their client's claims in the case.
The information the US government is seeking to withhold from Zambada Niebla’s attorneys, they believe, is likely related to a key figure in the case, an informant, Mexican attorney Humberto Loya Castro, who served as an intermediary between the Sinaloa Cartel leadership and US government agents seeking to obtain information on rival narco-trafficking organizations.
From the motion filed late last month by Zambada Niebla’s attorneys:
The government has announced its intention to make an ex parte submission [involving only the judge and prosecutors, excluding defense attorneys] to the Court concerning classified discovery issues. …
The defense believes that Humberto Loya Castro had access to the information that the [US] government now seeks to withhold throughout his many years of cooperation with the United States government and that high-ranking members of the Sinaloa cartel also had access to such information through Mr. Loya [Castro].
Mr. Zambada Niebla is alleged in the indictment to be a high-ranking member of the Sinaloa cartel. We believe that the information [the US government is seeking to cloak under national security] is material to the defense in that it may … contain information pertaining to agreements between agents of the United States government and the leaders of the Sinaloa cartel as well as policy arrangements between the United States government and the Mexican government pertaining to special treatment that was to be afforded to high-ranking members of the Sinaloa Cartel. Thus, Mr. Zambada Niebla’s counsel should be granted high-level security clearances to review the sensitive information.
Zambada Niebla was arrested in Mexico in March 2009, extradited to the US in February 2010 and is now facing narco-trafficking charges in federal court in Chicago, where he is confined in a jail cell in the downtown Metropolian Correctional Center. He claims in pleadings that the US government entered into a pact with the leadership of the Mexican Sinaloa narco-trafficking organization that supposedly provide its chief narcos with immunity in exchange for them providing US authorities with information that could be used to target other narco-trafficking organizations.
Zambada Niebla is the son of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, one of the purported top leaders of the Sinaloa drug-trafficking organization — a major Mexican-based importer of weapons and exporter of drugs. The top capo of the Sinaloa drug organization, named after the Pacific Coast Mexican state where it is based, is Joaquin Guzman Loera (El Chapo) — who escaped from a maximum security prison in Mexico in 2001, only days before he was slated to be extradited to the United States. Chapo has since gone on to build one of the most powerful drug “cartels” in Mexico.
The US government denies that Zambada Niebla was granted immunity by any law enforcement agency for the narco-trafficking crimes spelled out in the indictment against him.
However, US prosecutors do confirm in court filings that another high-level Sinaloa “Cartel” member, Mexican attorney Loya Castro, has worked as a DEA cooperating source for some 10 years (and as recently as this year) while also working for the Sinaloa organization.
Loya Castro is described in Zambada’s legal pleadings as “a close confidante of Joaquin Guzman Loera (Chapo),” the supposed leader of the Sinaloa organization.
Loya Castro acted as the intermediary representing the Sinaloa organization in its quid pro quo arrangement with the US government, Zambada Niebla’s court pleadings allege. US government court filings also confirm that Loya Castro worked to set up a direct cooperating-source relationship between DEA agents and Zambada Niebla — prior to his arrest by Mexican law enforcers in March 2009.
The US government, in court pleadings filed in September, lodged a motion in the case seeking to invoke the Classified Information Procedures Act, or CIPA, a measure designed to assure national security information does not become public during court proceedings.
To date, the US mainstream media has been completely silent on the US government’s effort to invoke CIPA in the Zambada Niebla case.
CIPA, enacted some 30 years ago, is designed to keep a lid on the public disclosure in criminal cases of classified materials, such as details associated with clandestine FBI or CIA operations. The act requires that notice be given to the judge in advance of any move to introduce classified evidence in a case so that the judge can determine if it is admissible, or if another suitable substitution can be arranged that preserves the defendant’s right to a fair trial.
As part of the pleadings filed late last month by Zambada Niebla’s attorneys, it appears US prosecutors are seeking to assure defense counsel is excluded from any discussions with the judge over evidence deemed to implicate national security. The defense, in such a case, would have no chance to argue its side and likely would not even be aware of the nature of the evidence being discussed with the judge.
Man in the Middle
But it is clear that Zambada Niebla’s attorneys believe there is a wealth of evidence to support their claims of a Sinaloa/US government quid pro quo — most of it flowing from Loya Castro’s relationship with his US law enforcement and intelligence agency handlers. An affidavit filed recently with Zambada Niebla’s pleadings in the case spells out the nature of that relationship.
The affidavit was docketed as an exhibit in the case on Oct. 24 by Fernando Gaxiola, an attorney for Zambada Niebla who sat in on meetings between Loya Castro and defense counsel and served as an interpreter.
From the affidavit:
Mr. Loya Castro stated that [US] agents told him that, in exchange for information about rival drug trafficking organizations, the United States government agreed to dismiss the prosecution of the pending case against [him], not to interfere with his drug-trafficking activities and those of the Sinaloa Cartel, to not actively prosecute him, Chapo, Mayo [Zambada Niebla’s father], and the leadership of the Sinaloa cartel, and to not apprehend them. The agents stated that this arrangement had been approved by high-ranking [US] officials and federal prosecutors. Mr. Loya Castro told Chapo and Mayo about this arrangement, and they agreed and relied on this agreement by providing the requested information.
Mr. Zambada Niebla was told of this agreement and relied on this arrangement by providing the requested information to Mr. Loya Castro, who would then pass along the information to the agents. The agents told Mr. Loya Castro that, when he went to meet with Chapo, he should notify the agents in advance. The agents assured Mr. Loya Castro that they would not follow him and would not interfere with the meetings so that he could be calm and obtain as much information as possible, and Mr. Loya Castro informed Chapo that the agents would be aware that he was going to meet with him.
The [US] agents also told Mr. Loya Castro to be careful when he spoke on the telephone with Chapo because they could be heard by Mexican authorities, and therefore he should not be explicit about the information that he gave Chapo over the telephone. The agents also allowed Mr. Loya Castro to be present at confidential meetings where information about the Sinaloa cartel was being discussed and allowed him to pass the information along to Chapo.
Mr. Loya Castro stated that he gave the agents significant information that he relayed from Chapo, Mayo, and Mr. Zambada Niebla, which resulted in numerous arrests of major figures in rival drug trafficking organizations.
US prosecutors argue that Gaxiola’s affidavit is based on third-parry hearsay and is, therefore, not valid evidence. The prosecution also points out that Loya Castro himself contradicts the defense counsels’ version of events.
“Loya Castro stated that he had previously met with defendant’s [Zambada Niebla's] attorneys in the Chicago case, together with Mexican lawyers and defendant’s wife, in Mexico City,” state pleadings filed by he government in the case. “According to Loya Castro … he advised defense counsel that he would not assist them if they tried to say that defendant [Zambada Niebla] had a previous [immunity] arrangement with the United States government.”
And in pleadings filed late last month, the government again points out that Loya Castro’s version of events is at odds with the picture painted by Zambada Nielba’s attorneys.
From those pleadings:
In addition, the government’s response noted that in conversations with DEA Agent Manuel Castanon in August 2011, Loya Castro told Agent [Manuel “Manny”] Castanon that the claims of immunity in the defendant’s [Zambada Nielba’s] legal filings with this Court were false.
Zambada Niebla’s attorneys counter that Loya Castro has been intimidated by US agents warning him that should he testify for the defense in the case, things could turn very ugly for him.
From the Gaxiola affidavit:
Mr. Loya Castro told us that Manny [presumably his DEA agent handler Manuel Castanon] contacted him after we [Zambada Niebla’s attorneys] filed our discovery requests and told him that he could not testify for the defense. Manny told him … that the American lawyers were doing a bad job in defending Mr. Zambada Niebla and if they kept up what they were doing, many people would be exposed and it would cause problems for Mr. Loya Castro and his family, Mayo and Chapo, and even the American lawyers would be at risk.
He also said that Manny told him that if his and the cartel's relationship with him and the US government were exposed and if Mr. Loya Castro's activities in providing information on other rival cartel leaders was exposed, it would be not only bad for him, but the US government since they didn't want anyone to know about their relationship with the heads of the Sinaloa cartel. He told us that Manny told him to tell Chapo and Mayo that the lawyers’ tactics were bad and could endanger them.
… Mr Loya Castro told us that because of what [DEA agent] Manny told him, he was terrified for the safety of himself and his family if the defense exposed what had been going on and felt that he could not testify as to what had occurred and his being an informant because they would all be in danger. Mr. Loya Castro was visibly disturbed, sweating profusely, and shaking, and repeated that he was frightened to come forward for the defense and would not do so.
Stay tuned ….
Narco News past coverage of the Zambada Niebla case can be found at these links: