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Sinaloa drug cartel operative testifies at 'El Chapo' trial

The trial is expected to last four months.


Joaquin "El Chapo," Guzman Loera is on trial for drug-related offenses in Brooklyn federal court. Photo Credit: Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via Getty Images

A former top operative in the Sinaloa cartel described how he doled out $300,000 monthly to government officials in Mexico City to win protection for drug operations, in new testimony Thursday at the Brooklyn federal court trial of accused cartel leader and cocaine kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera.

Jesus “Rey” Zambada Garcia said he paid bribes on orders of his brother, cartel co-leader Ismail “Mayo” Zambada Garcia, and Guzmán to federal police, judicial police, municipal police, the attorney general’s office, known as the “PGR,” as well as airport officials, generals and even Interpol.

"He would say, ‘Give half a million dollars to the attorney who was going to give it to the director of the PGR,” Zambada recalled. “Give another $500,000 to a general. They did it using lawyers, but I was the one who gave out the money in Mexico City.”

Guzmán, 58, is on trial for leading a drug trafficking operation that smuggled $14 billion in cocaine as well as heroin, marijuana and methamphetamines into the United States over a quarter century, and is charged with using bribery, violence and intimidation to maintain control of the enterprise.

Zambada is the first of an expected 16 informants to testify at the trial. On his second day on the stand Thursday he detailed strategies the cartel used to sneak drugs through Mexico and across the U.S. border, told jurors about an attempt on his life that left his head bleeding from a bullet graze, and fingered Guzmán in a notorious 1992 nightclub shooting that left bystanders dead.

In addition to gas tankers with hidden compartments and cross-border tunnels devised by Guzmán, Zambada described how the cartel would switch from large trucks to small shipments of 20 to 50 kilos hidden in passenger cars when U.S. border official started large, active interdiction efforts.

“It’s much harder for the authorities to detect them because on the same day thousands of vehicles are crossing,” he said. “With 10 cars with 20 kilos each, if you lose one, you’ve lost 20. That’s not a lot. . . . It’s the ‘ant-speed’ operation’ to cross the drugs.”

Zambada also detailed the first of several drug turf wars, the battle pitting his brother, Guzmán and the cartel against the Arellano-Felix group for control of crossings in Tijuana, Mexico, in the 1990s. That led to his attempted murder by rival sicarios in a store, which he barely survived, and later Guzmán’s bid to rub out an Arellano-Felix sicario leader named Ramon at Christine’s, a disco in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Ramon escaped, but several of his gunmen and several clubgoers were killed. Afterward, Zambada testified, his brother was “lamenting” the outcome because Ramon “was a very dangerous enemy” and had gotten away.

The trial is expected to last four months.


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