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Mexico: Alleged "narco-junior" Vicente Zambada extradited to the U.S.

February 18, 2010 |  4:59 pm


Vicente Zambada, son of one of Mexico's top drug kingpins and allegedly a major operator in his own right, was extradited Thursday to the United States, where he will stand trial on federal trafficking charges, authorities in both countries said.

Zambada, 34, was flown to Chicago and will be arraigned on Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo.

Federal agents arrested Zambada in March of last year in an affluent neighborhood in southern Mexico City. He was picked up along with five heavily armed bodyguards. He has been held in a maximum-security prison in the northern border state of Tamaulipas and on Thursday was handed over to U.S. authorities at the border crossing at Brownsville, Texas.

Zambada is the son of Ismael Zambada, who along with Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, heads the so-called Sinaloa cartel, the oldest and largest of Mexico’s drug-smuggling networks. Both older men are fugitives, with multimillion-dollar bounties on their heads. Mexican authorities say Ismael had designated Vicente, alias El Vicentillo, to oversee operations, logistics and security, moving him into the upper tier of cartel management.

He was one of the emerging crop of “narco-juniors” in Mexico, the well-dressed, university-educated offspring of the traditional capos.

The Sinaloa-based traffickers are responsible for the shipment of hundreds of pounds of cocaine and heroin into the U.S. every year, authorities say. 

The U.S. and Mexico used Thursday’s extradition to praise improved cooperation between the two governments. Mexico under President Felipe Calderon has extradited a record number of Mexican suspects to the U.S., reversing a long-held resistance to the practice by sovereignty-conscious Mexican officials.

"Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla is believed to be one of the most significant Mexican drug defendants extradited from Mexico to the United States since Osiel Cardenas Guillen, the accused leader of the notorious Gulf Cartel, was extradited in 2007," the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement, using the younger Zambada's full name.

Zambada was indicted last August in Chicago, along with nearly three dozen co-defendants, as part of what was called the largest international narcotics conspiracy case in federal Northern district of Illinois. Separate federal charges are pending in the District of Columbia.

— Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City

Photo: Vicente Zambada on the day of his arrest last year. Credit: El Universal newspaper.