Zetas Leader’s Conviction Shows Long Arm of US Law

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A federal jury in Texas convicted a former Zetas leader of multiple crimes committed in Mexico, underscoring a broader trend of the United States prosecuting foreign suspects for crimes committed abroad.

On July 19, the Texas jury found Marciano Millán Vázquez (alias “Chano”) guilty on charges that included murder in furtherance of a drug trafficking conspiracy, distributing drugs outside the United States intending that they be imported to the United States, and making a false statement to a federal official.

According to evidence presented during the two-week trial, Vázquez served as a “sicario,” or hit man, for the Zetas from around 2009 until 2013, when he became the “plaza boss” of Piedras Negras, a strategically important drug trafficking corridor on the Texas border in the Mexican state of Coahuila.

SEE ALSO: Zetas News and Profiles

During the trial, prosecutors argued that Vázquez oversaw the trafficking of more than 1 metric ton of drugs into the United States in his role as plaza boss.

They also accused him of involvement in the murders of dozens of people, including a particularly brutal incident in which Vázquez allegedly dismembered a young girl and her mother in front of the girl’s father, telling the man, “so you’ll remember me.”

As InSight Crime previously reported, US officials also argued that Vázquez participated in the Zetas’ March 2011 “cleansing” of hundreds of people in the town of Allende, Coahuila.

In a press statement, Joseph M. Arabit, the Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Houston Division, said that Vázquez ‘s conviction “sends a strong message that violent drug traffickers who prey on our citizens will be held accountable for the crimes they have committed.”

InSight Crime Analysis

The successful prosecution of Vázquez in a US court fits into a broader pattern of the US government charging and trying foreigners inside the United States for crimes committed abroad. Many of the most prominent examples of this trend have involved terrorism suspects, but the tactic is also being used with increased frequency in organized crime cases.

The indictments brought by US federal prosecutors against suspects in the corruption scandal at the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) illustrate this dynamic. Numerous defendants from various countries across the Americas were charged last year with participating in a scheme that involved sports media and marketing companies paying bribes to FIFA officials in exchange for help securing rights to broadcast and promote soccer games.

Although much of the alleged criminal activity in the FIFA scandal involved foreign suspects and took place outside the United States, the US Justice Department has argued that it has jurisdiction to prosecute the defendants because some of the alleged bribes flowed through the US financial system and some of the meetings among the suspects took place in the United States.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Soccer Crime

The case of the notorious Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán is a prominent example of a foreign suspect initially being charged in the United States for crimes committed abroad. Federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York originally charged El Chapo with international drug trafficking and the murder of Mexican citizens.

At the time these charges were brought against El Chapo, InSight Crime raised the possibility that the New York prosecutors would have difficulty securing the drug lord’s conviction for murder. Prosecutors have since dropped the murder charges, in part due to concerns over jurisdiction. However, the successful prosecution in Texas of the Zetas’ leader Vázquez suggests that arguing such cases is feasible, and it could become a more common practice in the future. 

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