What? Gov't Let Cartel Smuggle Drugs in Exchange for Intel?

A Sinaloa drug cartel member is claiming that the federal government allowed the cartel to smuggle cocaine into the United States in exchange for intelligence information about rival cartels.

Attorneys for Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla claim that in addition to being the drug-trafficking son of a Sinaloa cartel kingpin, Zambada was a Drug Enforcement Administration informant who was assured he could continue smuggling drugs in exchange for information by his DEA handlers. Zambada’s defense team is claiming that because he was an informant and promised immunity, charges against their client should be dropped.

According to the Houston Chronicle, U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo has given the government until September to respond.

While it is common for law enforcement agencies to cut a deal with suspects they have already captured in an effort to bring the suspect’s allies down as well, it is far rarer for an agency to cut a deal with a high-ranking trafficker while he is free and actively smuggling.

A trafficking expert cited in the Chronicle article says the deal, if true, is outrageous:

Bruce Bagley, who studies narcotics trafficking at the University of Miami, said the allegations call into question the sincerity of U.S. efforts to dismantle Mexico's cartels. Fallout will be felt from Mexico to Washington, he said.

"This is completely unacceptable. You are giving cover to lethal members, deeply involved in the drug trade that is fueling violence in Mexico and the United States," he said "It looks to me that where there is smoke, there is fire and there was some sort of a deal."

Zambada’s defense comes at a sensitive time for federal law enforcement, which has recently been rocked by allegations that a multi-agency task force -- including agencies from the Departments of State, Homeland Security, and Treasury -- allowed straw purchasers and smugglers to “walk” more than 2,000 guns to Mexican cartels, primarily the same Sinaloa cartel of which Zambada is a part.

Zambada’s lawyers indicate in court documents that top members of the Sinoloa cartel began working with the DEA as far back as 1995, when a cartel attorney was indicted and then “turned” to become an informant.

An even more shocking claim made in the court filing is that the deal the Sinaloa cartel leaders struck with the DEA involved warning the cartel leaders in advance of planned busts by U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officers. Cartel leaders would be told of raids before they happened, ensuring that they always have time to escape. The raids captured middle- and lower-ranking members of the cartel, but left the cartel leadership intact.

Legal documents also claim that the DEA/Sinaloa deal kept Mexican authorities in the dark about the relationship between the cartel and the government of the nation it continues to poison with drugs and related drug crime.

The claims of an uncomfortably close relationship between federal law enforcement and the Sinaloa cartel dating back to the Clinton administration sound eerily familiar to those that are following the current Gunwalker scandal that threatens to envelop the Obama administration.