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Sinaloa cartel leader pleads guilty


District Judge's conviction sends message to other drug kingpins

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (KYMA, KECY) - In a proceeding Friday before U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw, Ismael Zambada-Imperial, aka "Mayito Gordo," accepted responsibility for his role as a leader within the Sinaloa Cartel, acknowledging that he organized the transportation and distribution of thousands of kilograms of controlled substances, including cocaine, heroin and marijuana for importation from Mexico into the U.S.

Acting U.S. Attorney Randy S. Grossman says, "Zambada-Imperial’s guilty plea today sends a message to other drug kingpins operating in Mexico. There is no place to hide because our law enforcement partners will find you and work tirelessly to bring you to justice in the United States."

His plea guilty in federal court to drug trafficking charges follows an extradition to the Southern District of California in December 2019. He also agreed to forfeit $5 million in drug trafficking proceeds.

Zambada-Imperial also admitted to directing acts of violence for the purpose of promoting the Sinaloa Cartel’s narcotics trafficking activities. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 29, 2022 at 2 p.m. before Judge Sabraw.


  • Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substances for Purpose of Unlawful Importation, in violation of Title 21 U.S.C. §§ 959, 960 and 963.
    • Term of custody including a mandatory minimum 10 years and up to life imprisonment, $10 million fine.
  • Conspiracy to Import Controlled Substances, in violation of Title 21 U.S.C. §§ 952, 960 and 963.
    • Term of custody including a mandatory minimum 10 years and up to life imprisonment, $10 million fine.

Grossman continues, "Our investigation and prosecution of other high-level Sinaloa Cartel members is continuing, and is having a significant impact on the global operations of the cartel.” He praised Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew J. Sutton, DEA agents and all law enforcement partners for their excellent work on this case.

On July 25, 2014, Zambada-Imperial pleaded guilty to all charges in a superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in San Diego.

The indictment also charges his father, the alleged leader of the cartel, Ismael Zambada-Garcia, known as “El Mayo;” as well as another son of El Mayo, Ismael Zambada-Sicairos, known as “Mayito Flaco;” and Ivan Archivaldo Guzman-Salazar, known as “Chapito,” whose father Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera was the former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel along with Mayo. Zambada-Imperial was arrested by Mexican authorities in November 2014.

Zambada-Garcia, Zambada-Sicairos and Guzman-Salazar remain fugitives.

This case began in late 2011, as an investigation of what was at first believed to be a small-scale drug distribution cell in National City and Chula Vista.

It became evident that the drugs were being supplied by the Sinaloa Cartel, and the case evolved into a massive multi-national, multi-state probe that resulted in scores of arrests and seizures of 1,397 kilograms of methamphetamine, 2,214 kilograms of cocaine, 17.2 tons of marijuana, 95.84 kilograms of heroin and $27,892,706 in narcotics proceeds.

The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew J. Sutton.

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