CHICAGO (SUN TIMES MEDIA WIRE) - A former high-ranking member of the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel who testified against his boss, ‘El Chapo,’ was sentenced Thursday to 15 years in prison.
Vincente Zambada-Niebla, 44, received his sentence at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in downtown Chicago on charges he trafficked illegal drugs to the United States from 1996 to 2008.
U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo said Zambada-Niebla was “one of the highest people” on the drug chain he had ever sentenced, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Zambada-Niebla pleaded guilty in 2103 to drug conspiracy and began cooperating with federal authorities, prosecutors said. He later testified against and helped convict Sinaloa kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera.
Zambada-Niebla has already spent 10 years in prison and will likely be released after a few years. Prosecutors have predicted he “would in all likelihood be killed” without government protection, which is expected to continue after he leaves prison.
He was once responsible for coordinating the transport of illegal drugs with private aircraft, submarines, container ships and fishing vessels from South America to Mexico for “El Chapo.”
In court Thursday, Zambada-Niebla apologized for his crimes through a translator. He told the judge, “I made some bad decisions … which I accepted, and I continue to accept, full responsibility for.”
Zambada-Niebla is one of more than 20 members of the Sinaloa and Beltran-Leyva cartels to be indicted in federal court in Chicago, prosecutors said in a statement.
The investigation has resulted in seizures of about $30 million, about 11 tons of cocaine, 265 kilograms of methamphetamines and 78 kilograms of heroin, prosecutors said.