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Did The DEA Work With Mexico's Sinaloa Drug Cartel?

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Did The DEA Work With Mexico's Sinaloa Drug Cartel?

Did The DEA Work With Mexico's Sinaloa Drug Cartel?

TUCSON, Ariz. -- An accused Mexican drug lord extradited to the United States has filed a motion in federal court alleging he worked with U.S. law enforcement. He claims federal agents had been working with a second cartel member and granted him immunity.

Jesus Zambada Niebla is one of the few high-ranking members of the Sinaloa Cartel in U.S. custody. He doesn’t deny trafficking in narcotics. Instead, he said that he did so with the permission of American drug enforcement agents.

In court papers, Zambada claims he met with U.S. agents in Mexico City in 2009. At the meeting was another representative of the Sinaloa Cartel, Humberto Loya. Zambada said the agents agreed not to prosecute him in exchange for information. He claimed Loya had the same immunity and witnessed the offer to Zambada.


Drug Lord Worked For Feds?

Five hours later, Zambada was arrested.

Whether the meeting happened or not, records show Zambada was arrested that day in March.

What happened with Loya however, remains a mystery.

Loya was named in a 1995 indictment against drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loéra in federal court in San Diego. Loya was charged in the U.S. with money laundering, but federal court records show U.S. prosecutors dropped those charges in 2008.

The records don’t say why.

Lawrence Rosenthal, a law professor at Chapman University School of Law in California, is a former U.S. prosecutor who specialized in organized crime cases in Chicago. He said the dropped charges may have been part of a plea deal offered by the U.S.

“To me that is by far the most interesting allegation made in this motion," Rosenthal said. "Because the motion makes representation that a high-ranking member of the Sinaloa Cartel was in fact promised immunity by the federal government."

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego declined to answer why they dropped the charges against Loya. In an email, Debra Hartman, spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office, said: "We have no comment other than the public filings."

Rosenthal questioned their silence on the case.

"Perhaps if they’re not willing to talk to the press, perhaps congressional oversight are going to force them to be accountable," the professor said. "We’ve seen that happen.”

Zambada is accused of of trafficking nearly $6 billion in cocaine while working for the Sinaloa Cartel, a powerful drug trafficking organization in Mexico. In fact, he's the eldest son of one of its leaders.

In previous court records, he claimed the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration ( DEA) and various Dept. of Homeland Security agents in Mexico were worked with Zambada for more than five years.

The trial against Zambada - who's being kept in solitary confinement - is scheduled to begin early next year, according to court records.

Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.