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Walter Armstrong Walter Armstrong

“Narco Junior” Revealed as DEA Agent Is Now Poised to Rat Out His Dad

4 Substance

Vicente Zambada, the drug-trafficking son of the Sinaloa Cartel’s second in command, has made a unique career change over the past four years. Zambada, who is known in Mexico as “Narco Junior,” has gone from supplying US consumers with billions of dollars of heroin, cocaine and other illegal drugs to supplying US authorities access to a trove of inside information on Sinaloa operations over the past two decades.

But this career change is not without risks. Not only will the cartel now be gunning for him, but relations between him and his dad, “El Mayo” Zambada, who is currently poised to assume the cartel’s leadership, are strained, to put it mildly. This is one father-son conflict that no amount of family therapy will resolve.

Narco Junior was arrested in Mexico in 2009 and extradited to face charges in Chicago, the center of Sinaloa’s US operations, in 2010. His lawyers dropped a bombshell when they announced that the charges were a sham because Narco Junior had been working under cover as an informant for the DEA in collaboration with the Sinaloa Cartel to bring down competing cartels. The DEA had promised Narco Junior immunity from prosecution, they said—a claim that, if true, meant that the single-largest Mexican supplier of drugs to the US is operating with the DEA’s blessing. The DEA denied the story. The media dropped it. No one much noticed as year after year Narco Junior’s trial was delayed.

In January, events unfolded in a rapid and dramatic fashion. A leading Mexican newspaper ran a story that laid out in great detail everything the newly available court documents contained about the alleged DEA-Sinaloa collaboration. In February “El Chapo” Guzman, the longtime head of the Sinaloa cartel, was arrested in Mexico. Last week the Department of Justice announced that Narco Junior, who is only 39, had made a plea deal with prosecutors, agreeing to a sentence of 10 years in exchange for standing trial and facing a lifetime in prison. He has already served four.

“The government came to the negotiating table because Zambada posed an extraordinarily valuable source for information about the Sinaloa cartel, its associates and enemies. A plea agreement also prevents any further exposure of covert DEA operations in Mexico,” The Guardian reported on Friday. “Zambada’s future now depends on his willingness to inform on Mexican cartels, including his father’s.”

Whether Narco Junior supplied information that helped lead to the capture of El Chapo is unclear. But Narco Junior is now the likely Star Witness for the Prosecution in any US trials of Sinaloa personnel, starting, of course, with El Chapo. This situation has put El Mayo in quite the spot.

On a lighter note, The New Yorker reported on Friday that Narco Junior’s plea agreement includes his forfeiting all property and assets to the Mexican government. The total amount adds up to $1.37 billion. That number comes as a surprise, since it was long believed that El Chapo was the only Sinaloa billionaire. (Forbes had estimated El Chapo’s net worth as “above $1 billion” in 2012.) He is almost certainly worth a lot more than that, although present circumstances restrict  his spending power.