TUCSON, Ariz. -- The arguments filed in the drug conspiracy case against Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla have taken more twists than the smuggling networks he’s accused of creating.
U.S. prosecutors in this major Mexican drug cartel case have told a federal judge that they never agreed to work with him. Now, they’re asking to limit just how much of their own information the defendant can have access to.
Zambada, known as “El Mayito”, is the son of the powerful Mexican drug lord Ismael Zambada Garcia. He is accused of smuggling tons of cocaine into the U.S.
His response earlier this year was that he did so with the full knowledge of American federal drug agents. He said he can prove it.
U.S. officials said that never happened. But they're apparently worried about what he may ask from them to prove his case. So to keep him from getting everything they have on the Sinaloa Cartel, they filed a motion called the Classified Information Procedures Act.
Peter Henning, an organized crime expert at Wayne State University Law School, said the CIPA rule is a prosecutor's defense against what he calls "graymail."
That's a kind of legal strategy akin to poker. If prosecutors don't share what the defendant asks for, they risk having the case dismissed. If they do, they risk sharing classified information that is overly sensitive, Henning said.
“It’s a way to try to protect classified information and yet still allow a defendant to obtain the discovery they’re entitled to,” the professor said.
He said it’s the kind of limiting request prosecutors use in terror or spy cases, not drugs. Then again, no drug lord at Zambada’s level has claimed collusion the way he has.
“This case will have more twists and turns,” Henning said. “It certainly is interesting.”
The U.S. has already admitted that Zambada's earlier claims were right: The man whose case was dismissed in San Diego, Humberto Loya, is noted as a "fugitive cooperating defendant."
They said Zambada did meet with DEA agents in Mexico, but that they were not authorized to meet with him and he did so against their wishes.