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Homeland Security

01 August 2003

Head of U.S.-Mexican Drug Ring Indicted, Justice Department Reports

Zambada-Garcia indicted, 240 others arrested

Ismael Zambada-Garcia, head of a far-reaching U.S.-Mexican drug operation, has been indicted, according to an announcement from the U.S. Justice Department July 31. U.S. and Mexican authorities have arrested more than 240 individuals in connection with the same investigation. More than 175 of those have already been charged in drug crimes by state and federal prosecutors in the United States.

The 19-month-long operation that resulted in the arrests and indictments was known as Operation Trifecta, according to the Justice Department press release. The accused are charged with conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine produced in Colombia, shipped to a location on Mexico's Pacific coast, and then transported further across the border into the United States.

Authorities launched Operation Trifecta in December 2001, ultimately conducting more than 80 separate investigations.

The following is the text of the Justice Department press release:

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International Narcotics Investigation Takes Down Key Members Of The Zambada-Garcia Drug Organization

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Attorney General John Ashcroft today announced the indictment of Mexican drug lord Ismael Zambada-Garcia, head of the Zambada-Garcia drug organization (ZGO), and the arrests of over 240 individuals in the United States and Mexico. The indictment and related arrests are the result of Operation Trifecta, a 19-month-long international Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation into cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine trafficking. The investigation was conducted by agents and analysts from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Internal Revenue Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, attorneys from the Justice Department's Criminal Division and various U.S. Attorneys' offices, and coordinated by the Special Operations Division, a DEA-led program.

The indictment unsealed today was returned in late January 2003 by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia. The indictment charges Ismael Zambada-Garcia and two of his top lieutenants, Vicente Zambada-Niebla and Javier Torres-Felix, with conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine. The indictment specifically alleges that between August 2001 and June 2002, the Zambada-Garcia organization delivered 1,003 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated value of $17 million to the New York/New Jersey area; 1,770 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated value of $30 million to the Chicago area; and 23 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated value of $391,000 to California.

In September 2002, the Zambada-Garcia organization was named by the Attorney General as a Consolidated Priority Organization Target (CPOT), a list that identifies the command and control structures of the most significant drug and money organizations that pose a threat to the United States. The list is overseen by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a nationwide multi-agency task force that combines seven law enforcement agencies from the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Treasury, along with state and local law enforcement.

"Today, the United States and Mexico, working together, have achieved a significant victory against the purveyors of illegal drugs, death and violence: Operation Trifecta," said Attorney General John Ashcroft. "The activities of drug cartels such as Zambada-Garcia weaken our citizens and communities. They threaten the rule of law and insidiously endanger our way of life."

With roots in the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Nayarit, the Zambada-Garcia organization exerts considerable influence along a large portion of Mexico's Pacific coast. According to the indictment, the ZGO received multi-ton quantities of cocaine, via maritime shipping, from Colombian sources of supply. After receipt of the cocaine, the ZGO allegedly used a variety of methods, including planes, trucks and cars, to transport the cocaine to the United States-Mexico border. Members of the ZGO would then allegedly transport the cocaine to the U.S./Mexico border, where it was then smuggled to locations including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

Operation Trifecta was initiated shortly after the December 2001 seizure of 9,291 kilograms of cocaine from the fishing vessel Macel, off the Pacific coast of Mexico. As a result of the Macel seizure, and several ongoing DEA and BICE operations, the Special Operations Division (SOD) focused a nationwide effort on the communications of the domestic cells of the Zambada-Garcia organization. More than 80 separate investigations across the country were coordinated over a 19-month period. Those investigations have led to the arrests of over 240 individuals, and the seizure of 11,759 kilograms of cocaine, 24,409 pounds of marijuana, nearly 108 pounds of methamphetamine, one pound of heroin, and more than $8.3 million in U.S. currency. These SOD-coordinated, multi-national investigations revealed the vast scope of the Zambada-Garcia organization's operations, ranging from the organization's Colombian sources of supply, to Mexican maritime and border smugglers, to domestic distribution cells operating in various cities in the United States.

In the United States, federal agents, acting with assistance from numerous state and local law enforcement agencies, carried out this week's arrests in New York; Buffalo, New York; Youngstown, Ohio; Phoenix, Arizona; Nogales, Arizona; Los Angeles; Salt Lake City, Utah; Miami; and Providence, Rhode Island. Mexican authorities have located and arrested four additional defendants on provisional arrest warrants at the request of U.S. authorities. Those arrested have been indicted or charged by way of complaint with a variety of drug-related offenses. In addition, more than 50 search warrants were executed in conjunction with the arrests.

The Zambada-Garcia indictment, a product of the Justice Department's Bilateral Case Initiative, resulted from an investigation undertaken by prosecutors from the Criminal Division's Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section and agents from the DEA's recently-formed Bilateral Case Group.

Operation Trifecta involved the coordination of more than 80 separate criminal investigations conducted by dozens of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, Mexican and Colombian police officials, and prosecutors from the Department of Justice Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, nine United States Attorneys' offices -- including the Southern District of New York, the Western District of New York, the Central District of California, the District of Utah, the District of Arizona, the Southern District of Florida, the Northern District of Ohio, the District of Rhode Island, and the Eastern District of Virginia. State prosecutors offices in California, New York, and Arizona also participated.

In addition to Zambada-Garcia, more than 175 defendants were charged by state and federal prosecutors nationwide. Other significant defendants charged in the United States include:

Javier Torres-Felix: Separate federal indictments have been filed against Torres-Felix in the District of Columbia and Los Angeles. The District of Columbia indictment alleges that Torres-Felix is a top Zambada-Garcia lieutenant responsible for arranging the transportation of multi-ton shipments of cocaine to ZGO associates in the United States. The indictment also alleges that Torres-Felix was responsible for the receipt and distribution of millions of dollars in drug proceeds gained from the ZGO's trafficking activities. Torres-Felix is specifically charged (along with Zambada-Garcia and his son, Vicente Zambada-Niebla) with conspiracy to import and distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine within the United States. The Los Angeles indictment charges alleges that Torres-Felix provided millions of dollars worth of cocaine to distribution cells in the Los Angeles area. The multi-count indictment specifically charges Torres-Felix with: 1) conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine; 2) conspiracy to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine; 3) conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine; 4) possession with intent to distribute approximately 15.02 kilograms of cocaine; and 5) possession with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine.

Vicente Zambada-Niebla

Vicente Zambada-Niebla, the son and co-defendant of Ismael Zambada-Garcia, is named in the District of Columbia indictment unsealed today. The indictment alleges that Zambada-Niebla was responsible for supervising the unloading of multi-ton quantities of cocaine from ships off the Mexican coast and verifying the quantities delivered to the ZGO by their Colombian sources of supply. Zambada-Niebla is specifically charged with conspiracy to import and distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine within the United States.

Manuel Campas-Medina

Manuel Campas-Medina has been indicted by a grand jury in the Southern District of New York. The New York indictment alleges Campas-Medina's direct involvement in the shipment of 62 kilograms of cocaine in February 2002, and his participation in telephone conversations to arrange additional shipments of cocaine from Mexico to the New York area. The indictment specifically charges Campas-Medina and 13 other defendants with conspiracy to import and distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine.

The following federal, state, and local agencies participated in Operation Trifecta:


US Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Narcotic & Dangerous Drug Section

Drug Enforcement Administration (Los Angeles; San Diego; Riverside; Fresno; Carlsbad; New York; Buffalo; Houston; Las Vegas; Miami; Washington, DC; Phoenix; Tucson; Yuma; Nogales; Providence; Youngstown; Salt Lake City)

United States Attorney's Offices (Los Angeles, New York, Buffalo, Miami, Providence, Youngstown, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Norfolk)
U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Los Angeles; New York; Buffalo; Phoenix)

Internal Revenue Service

U.S. Marshals Service

Federal Bureau of Investigation (Los Angeles)
U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (Nogales)
US Postal Inspectors (Buffalo)

State and Local:


Downey Police Department
Pomona Police Department
Los Angeles Police Department
Los Angeles Impact
San Bernardino Police Department
Pasadena Police Department
Los Angeles District Attorney's Office
Hawthorne Police Department
Gardena Police Department
Los Angeles Sheriff's Office
California Highway Patrol
Fullerton Police Department
Orange County Regional Narcotics Suppression Program
California State Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement
Inland Crackdown Allied Task Force
Long Beach Police Department
El Monte Police Department
Pomona Police Department
Simi Valley Police Department
Tennessee 21st Judicial District Drug Task Force
Imperial County Sheriff's Office

New York:
New York City Police Department
New York State Police
Southern Tier Regional Taskforce
Jamestown Police Department
Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office.


Miami-Dade Police Department
Florida Highway Patrol

Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department


Prince George's County Police Department

Arizona Department of Public Service
Phoenix Police Department
Arizona Department of Public Service
Pima County Sheriff's Office
Pima County Attorney's Office
Oro Valley Police Department
Coolidge Police Department
Arizona Department of Public Safety
Yuma County Sheriff's' Department
Arizona Attorney General's Office
Nogales Police Department

Rhode Island:

Warwick Police Department
Middletown Police Department
Westerly Police Department
TF Green Airport Police
Providence County HIDTA


Warren Police Department
Youngstown Police Department
Poland Valley Police Department
Salem Police Department
Mahoning County Sheriff's Office
Boardman Police Department
Canfield Police Department
Beaver Police Department
Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation


Utah Department of Public Safety
Salt Lake City Police Department
South Jordan Police Department
Sandy Police Department
Murray Police Department
West Valley Police Department
South Salt Lake City Police Department
Midvale Police Department
Weber-Morgan Narcotics Task Force
Utah County Major Crimes Task Force
Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office

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(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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