A commander of the Zetas drug cartel pleaded guilty Thursday, May 23, 2013 to the murder of ICE Special Agent Jaime J. Zapata and the attempted murder of fellow agent Victor Avila.
Julian Zapata Espinoza, 32, also known as “El Piolin” entered the plea in a Washington, D.C., federal court before Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth less than two weeks before he was to stand trial on the charges of murder and attempted murder in the shooting of the federal agents.
Zapata, 32, a Brownsville native who worked for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was killed Feb. 15, 2011, near San Luis Potosi, Mexico, in an attack by members of the Zetas drug cartel.
Avila was wounded in the attack.
Authorities said Zapata struggled with his assailants as they tried to drag him out of his vehicle. Zapata was shot at least three times with the bullets flying through the car window that accidentally had been cracked open. Authorities said 83 spent casings from AK-47 bullets were found at the scene.
Agent Zapata’s family attended Thursday’s court proceedings along with attorney Trey Martinez of Brownsville, who said the Zapata family was “pleased” with the court proceedings that had occurred, but added this is just the beginning. The family has a $75 million lawsuit pending against the federal government and others.
“The Zapata and Avila families are pleased with this guilty plea and the steps taken to bring those responsible for this crime to justice. They are grateful to all those who have stood by them and have been instrumental in this process,” Martinez said in statement.
In his April 2013 statement to federal authorities, Espinoza Zapata admitted that he and other “estacas” or “hit squads” armed with AK-47s, AR-15s and handguns, surrounded the armored vehicle in which Jaime Zapata and Avila were riding in San Luis Potosi. El Piolin stated he fired several shots in the air trying to get the agents to exit the vehicle. When they refused to do so, the “estacas” fired weapons at the vehicle, Espinoza Zapata said.
Zapata Espinoza said he and the others did not know that Agent Zapata and Avila were U.S. citizens and federal agents until after the ambush. He was arrested Feb. 23, 2011, at his residence in Mexico.
The purpose of “stopping the armored vehicle was to steal it,” Espinoza Zapata said.
In an initial statement to Mexican authorities, Zapata Espinoza said that agent Zapata’s death was a case of mistaken identity. He and others believed the Suburban in which Zapata and Avila were riding belonged to a rival drug cartel.
In his April statement to U.S. authorities, Zapata Espinoza said Zeta members had a “standing order from the Zetas leadership to steal vehicles deemed valuable to the cartel.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C., Thursday stated that three others also entered guilty pleas in connection with the killing and wounding of the agents. Ruben Dario Venegas Rivera, 25, also known as “Catracho,” and Jose Ismael Nava Villagran, 30, also known as “Cacho,” pleaded guilty on Aug. 1, 2011, and Jan. 4, 2012, respectively, to one count each to federal charges concerning the murder and attempted murder of agents Zapata and Avila.
In addition, Francisco Carbajal Flores, 38, also known as “Dalmata,” entered a guilty plea to a charge of “conspiracy to conduct the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity and to being an accessory after the fact to the murder and attempted murder of the agents.”
The defendants’ guilty pleas had been sealed until Thursday’s court proceedings.
Authorities said as part of the guilty pleas Zapata Espinoza, Venegas Rivera and Nava Villagran admitted to being members of the Zetas hit squad and participating directly in the ambush on the agents.
Carbajal Flores admitted to assisting Zeta members in the attack.
All four men face a possible maximum sentence of life in prison. No sentencing date has been scheduled.
The case was investigated by the FBI, ICE, the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Adminstration, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Diplomatic Security Service and the U.S. Marshals Service.
More cartel related trial news: Vincente Zambada’s Trial Posponed Again,
Eduardo Arellano Félix pleads guilty in U.S Court ….Gets 15
From the level of anticipation in the courtroom, it seemed the audience would set the start date for defendant Vicente Zambada Niebla’s this instant. Disappointed with still “no date in sight” because the it was postponed again today at the request of prosecutors and defense. so the Judge Ruben Castillo ruled that both parties will meet face to face again until next July 23.
Neither lawyers nor prosecutors, nor the Department of Justice of the United States, revealed the reasons by which the hearing was postponed (for the umpteenth time). They appeared only interested with the court’s decision which was obeyed by the defense and the prosecution.
“That’s all we were told: just that the hearing will be postponed at the a request of both sides,” said Randall Sanborn, spokesman for the DOJ in the Northern District of Illinois.
Zambada Niebla was extradited on February 18, 2010, and has since participated in several hearings in Chicago Federal Court, but always without setting a date yet for the start of trial, which would be the beginning of a legal tug of war.
In response to the allegations, prosecutors said Zambada Niebla, along with other leaders of the cartel, would have tried to attack the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, or another public building in the nation’s capital.
After those first attacks, Judge Castillo said that “due to the seriousness of the case,” it would have to be postponed. And for the past two years the case has been postponed .
Tomas Arevalo Veazquez Renteria and Alfredo Hernandez, two of the defendants who were prosecuted with Vicentillo will be tried in separate trials, raising doubts and strengthening the possibility that Zambada Niebla’s trial will be sequestered.
Zambada Niebla was arrested in Mexico City on March 19, 2009.
The Mexican drug lord Eduardo Arellano Félix, alias “El Doctor”, will plead guilty to several charges Friday morning in federal court in San Diego, California, federal sources reported Thursday. The last of the Arellano Félix brothers prosecution will present its statement after reaching an agreement with federal prosecutors to reduce his sentence, revealed, Debra Hartman, the prosecution spokeswoman . “El Doctor”, 65, was extradited from Mexico on August 31, 2012 without having completed his sentence in Mexico, to stand trial in California on drug conspiracy and money laundering. Arellano Félix, the former leader of the Arellano Felix organization is the last of the brothers to be tried, after Francisco Javier, alias “El Tigrillo”, who was sentenced to life imprisonment, Francisco Rafael was repatriated to Mexico and Ramon was killed in a clash in Sinaloa.
According to federal court records in San Diego, “El Doctor” and two lieutenants of the Arellano Felix cartel are responsible for smuggling thousands of tons of cocaine from Colombia to the United States.
Promptly at 10 am, Judge Larry Alan Burns began the trial hearing against Eduardo Arellano Felix, El Doctor, for the alleged crimes of money laundering and transportation of proceeds of drug trafficking.
In the Southern District of California federal court, room 14 was not large enough for everyone to hear the plea of the last Arellano Felix brother arrested and tried in the United States.
Before Judge Burns, El Doctor accepted responsibility for the charges against him, after reaching a preliminary agreement with American justice. The negotiation thought to benefit Arellano Felix since he would receive a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and be cleared of two charges together which represented a sentence of 20 years in prison: conspiracy for drug trafficking and conspiracy.
The judge also said that if he accepted his guilt he would in fact lose any right to reclaim assets of up to $50 million from the profits of the organization.
After Arellano Felix agreed to accept the charges, Judge Burns cited a new hearing on August 19 but not before warning him that the first charge would receive a sentence of five years and the second 10 years.
Interestingly, Judge Burns is the same who sentenced Benjamin and Francisco Javier Arellano Felix. Both serving sentences in the United States.
Arellano Felix was assisted at the hearing by the public defender, Brian P. Funk.
Still Awaiting Sentencing Date for Jose Trevino Morales and accomplices
There still is no sentencing date set in the conspiracy to launder Los Zeta’s cartel money trial from Judge Sam Sparks @United States Western District Court of Texas
for Jose Treviño Morales, Francisco Cessa Colorado, Estebio Maldonado Huitron and Fernando Solis Garcia awaiting sentencing in custody.
Riodoce, Riodoce, Washington Post