nine members of the Los Zetas Cartel have been “cooperating with everything” with the government of United States In the last decade, however, unlike other cartels, they have not done so with cartloads of money, but with information that has revealed the operations and the names of the members that make up the criminal organization and its spin-offs.
MILLENNIUM found that several drug traffickers and hitmen have accepted full cooperation agreements with the Department of Justice to avoid sentences of up to 40 years or life, as has happened with other members of the cartel. They have been willing to plead guilty, be cooperative witnesses, and make themselves available for future prosecutions when requested by the government of that country.
Due to this cooperation, the members of The Zetas They have achieved sentences of between three and 15 years, except for a couple of capos who obtained significant reductions but were still sentenced to 20 and 25 years in prison.
The exchange of information has allowed United States continue to file charges against The Zetas and its splits, such is the recent case of Juan Gerardo Treviño Chávez, The eggleader of one of the criminal cells of the Northwest Cartel and who was extradited by Mexico on March 14.
The key for these nine drug traffickers to avoid life imprisonment has been in a figure called “fully cooperate” or total cooperation agreement. According to documents reviewed in three federal circuits dand United Statesthis includes not refusing to deliver the acquired assets derived from the drug traffic but also full cooperation in providing information for future trials.
“This includes information related to any criminal activity known to the defendant, including and not limited to drug trafficking, violent crimes and money laundering,” says one of the agreements to which this newspaper had access.
“The defendant agrees to testify truthfully before a grand jury in other judicial or administrative proceedings when called by the United States. The defendant voluntarily agrees to interviews with the government,” he adds.
In addition, the agreements that have been signed The Zetas They include among their clauses that, if they appear before any authority of the North American government with lies, it will lead to a process against them for false statements.
Another point in common between these nine members of The Zetastoday collaborating witnesses of the government of United Statesis that they came before a Federal Court with psychiatric and psychological problems and addictions to alcohol and drugs, so within this agreement they have also accepted rehabilitation treatments inside the prisons where they have been incarcerated.
Roberto Camacho and Andrés Alfredo Hernández, who faced a sentence of 20 years each, reached agreements to spend only three years in prison. Arturo Palencia was able to reduce his sentence from 40 to 10 years, while Wenceslao Tovar Jr. went from life to 20 years. The life prison that Raúl Castillo would face was transformed into 15 years in prison.
After two plea agreements, Jorge Rodriguez He achieved an 8-year sentence, while René García was sentenced to 12 years, after failing to comply with his probation. Richard Guerrero managed to be released and was treated as a “material witness.”
A pioneer in this type of agreement, the capo Ociel Cárdenas Guillén was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Cárdenas Guillén: the precursor
On United Statesthere are at least 1,300 documents in Texas courts against The Zetas. This is where you can read the testimonies of victims, rivals and members of the criminal organization that was first a split from the Gulf Cartel who led Osciel Cardenas Guillen, one of the bloodiest drug traffickers of all time; in fact it is to him, to whom the birth of this cartel is attributed.
And it was precisely Cárdenas Guillén who began the Los Zetas tradition of becoming collaborating witnesses in exchange for reduced sentences. And it is that according to the biographers of the criminal organization, it is mostly made up of young people without work or resources, so they came to court without financial support, a different case from that of the Sinaloa cartel and that of the Arellano Félix who have delivered Million dollar fortunes exchange for freedom.
Cárdenas Guillen reached a plea agreement in the South Texas District Attorney’s Office in 2010, which included the delivery of information on the criminal structure of the cartels he founded, but also of other rival gangs. Finally in 2015 he managed to get a sentence of just 25 years and to have his whereabouts kept secret by the prison system until the day of his release.
In the same court, the one for the Southern District of Texas, other drug traffickers from The Zetas they have followed in his footsteps despite being involved in acts that include satanic rites, beheadings, kidnappings, safe houses, drug trafficking and money laundering.
One of those who reached cooperation agreements was Wenseslao Jr. Tovar, who according to the US government worked directly for Miguel Ángel Treviño, Z40founding leader of The Zetas. The indictment against him reveals that the 26-year-old man, at the time, participated in the kidnapping of another Zeta who would have been leaking information to a rival cartel organization.
Wenseslao Jr. Tovar would have shot him dead when the man refused to accept his kidnapping. According to court documents from United Statesthe Prosecutor’s Office requested a life sentence, however, his defense managed to get the US government to sentence him to 20 years in prison through a cooperation agreement.
And it is that according to a medical examination located in his file, the man had suffered an accident on a highway in Tamaulipas and had been immobilized from the waist down, a condition that helped reduce his sentence in 2012.
In the document it can be read that the defense argued that the terrible pain, the sores on the body caused by being confined to a bed or a wheelchair, will mean that he has a short life expectancy. In addition, it was ordered that the man have all the facilities that the prison can grant him, protection measures as well as that he receive psychiatric rehabilitation treatment.
Another who, thanks to a full plea deal, is only serving a 12-year prison sentence is René García, The Frogwho according to the Department of Justice traveled to the Rio Grande to meet the Z40.
In this first meeting, the Z40 he would give them a list of targets and five thousand dollars: rival members of the Sinaloa Cartelwhich at that time was led by Joaquín El Chapo Guzman. With him was another man named Andres Alfredo Hernandez.
Both agreed to hand over information, become witnesses, testify in any judicial proceeding involving a member of The Zetas. Andrés Alfredo reached an even more advantageous agreement: he only faced three years in prison and obtained his freedom when the Prosecutor’s Office had revealed that he could ask for up to 20 years against him.
Rene Garcia The Frog In 2008, he managed to get the authorities to grant him the benefit of parole. However, according to the US court system, he violated the conditions and was arrested on a US highway in March of this year, in Charlotte.
At that time, the Prosecutor’s Office said that among the weapons used to kill were a Smith and Wesson 9 mm, an AR-15 and a Glock .40 mm.
The agreement between the authorities and members of The Zetas He also managed to get a man named Roberto Camacho, who worked under the command of Gabriel Cardona Ramírez, head of Zeta hitmen who plotted the kidnapping of two young North Americans: Jorge Alfonso Avilés, 19, and Inez Villarreal, 14, in a Nuevo Laredo nightclub on March 30, 2006.
Roberto Camacho worked for The Zetas trafficking cocaine from Tamaulipas to Nuevo Laredo. Another of Camacho’s tasks was to look for safe houses to assassinate a man. In addition, he crossed the border with more than 800 thousand dollars. He was sentenced in 2009.
According to the case documents, the Prosecutor’s Office warned that he could ask for up to 20 years against Camacho, however, after a full plea agreement, the zeta reached an agreement that allowed him to obtain his freedom in just three years. He also accepted alcohol and drug rehab in prison.
Among the agreements there are even cases that included exoneration of the charge of kidnapping. Such is the case of a man named Richard Guerrero, who according to his accusation in the United States would have worked planning a kidnapping for Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, the Z40.
He pretended to be a policeman using patrol lights, with this he managed to intercept his victim, who believed that an authority was detaining him.
Guerrero managed to get him exonerated from the charge in 2008 and in exchange he became a “material witness” who agreed to his release with the United States Department of Justice.
Others who made pacts with the government was drug trafficker Arturo Palencia, who trafficked marijuana and weapons for criminal purposes for the Zetas. Of 40 years that the Prosecutor’s Office said he could ask for, he only got 10 years. In his case, in addition to the total agreement, his rehabilitation from drugs and alcohol in prison was also requested. The agreement was reached in 2008.
The same goes for a Zeta named Raúl Castillo, who trafficked cocaine and laundered money for the cartel. Through an agreement in 2012, he agreed to a sentence of 15 years in prison, despite the fact that the day he signed the agreement, the Prosecutor’s Office warned that the penalty could reach life in prison and a fine of 4 million dollars.
This scenario of total agreements and sentence reductions is what the last zeta extradited to the United States faces, Juan Gerardo Treviño Chavez, The eggleader of one of the criminal cells of the Northwest Cartel and relative of Miguel Ángel Treviño, the Z40who is still in a prison in Mexico.
The egg He will face 11 charges against him, including drug trafficking and money laundering. She will also do it in the Attorney General’s Office for the Western District of Texas.