Son of Sinaloa kingpin sentenced in San Diego to 9 years in prison (2023)

A son of Sinaloa cartel kingpin Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada has been sentenced in San Diego federal court to nine years in prison for his role helping lead the Mexico-based drug-trafficking empire.

Ismael Zambada Imperial, 37, known by the nickname “Mayito Gordo,” was not ordered to pay a fine during the sentencing hearing Friday, but he was ordered to forfeit $5 million in illicit earnings as agreed to in his plea deal.

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Zambada Imperial pleaded guilty in April 2021 to two charges: conspiracy to import methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana, and conspiracy to distribute those same drugs. In his plea agreement he admitted to being a major coordinator of the drug-trafficking operation and ordering acts of violence for the benefit of the cartel.


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The indictment alleges the cartel used everything from vehicles to planes to submarines to move drugs north through Mexico and into the United States to be distributed across the country. It also used sophisticated laundering and bulk-cash smuggling networks to get its illicit proceeds back into the hands of the cartel.

His father — who for years has co-led the Sinaloa cartel alongside the more recognizable Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán — is the lead defendant in the 2014 San Diego indictment and remains a fugitive, as does son Ismael “Mayito Flaco” Zambada Sicairos. Guzmán was indicted separately in New York, convicted at trial and is serving a life sentence in Colorado.

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The cartel has maintained its control over a large portion of the U.S. illegal drug market despite convictions against several high-ranking Sinaloa members, although it continues to fight for dominance against the also powerful and brutal Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación. There is internal strife, as well, as factions loyal to El Mayo compete with El Chapo’s sons for total command.

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Zambada Imperial was extradited to San Diego in December 2019 with no fanfare, after having spent five years behind bars in Mexico on gun charges. The public court docket in his case is sparse, with many documents filed under seal, as is common in cartel prosecutions.

Two of El Mayo’s other sons have been convicted in the U.S. — Vicente Zambada Niebla in Chicago, who turned major cooperator, and younger brother Serafin Zambada Ortiz in San Diego.

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