Sinaloa-linked cocaine kingpin sentenced to 15 years in prison

Former cocaine kingpin Victor Emilio Cazares Gastellum was sentenced to 15 years in prison and the forfeiture of $10 million for trafficking tons of cocaine from South America, through Mexico and into the United States. Photo by Valerie Everett/Flickr

SAN DIEGO, Oct. 26 (UPI) — The drug kingpin known as The Gatekeeper and El Licenciado, and who has strong links to the Sinaloa drug cartel and its former leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, was sentenced on Tuesday for his role in importing tons of cocaine into the United States.

Victor Emilio Cazares Gastellum was sentenced to 15 years in prison in a U.S. District Court in San Diego after pleading guilty in June to conspiracy to import drugs as part of a scheme that moved more than 1,000 pounds of cocaine from Mexico into Southern California.

“I’m very sorry for my actions of my past life,” Cazares told U.S. District Judge William Hayes during the sentencing hearing. “When I get out I’m going to live here and join a church and work for God. I want to live in a house surrounded by my children and grandchildren the rest of my life.”

Cazares was caught during a 22-month sting called “Operation Imperial Emperor” that included the arrests of 402 people around the country who worked for him, and the confiscation of $45 million in cash and tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a press release.

First indicted by the Justice Department in 2007, Cazares built a multi-national operation with the Sinaloa cartel, shipping tons of cocaine from Colombia and Venezuela, up through Central America to Mexico.

From Mexico, the smuggler used cells of truck drivers, pilots and others to move cocaine into the United States using secret compartments in vehicles driven through backcountry and less traveled routes. The drugs were then shipped to cities across the United States.

The 2007 indictment put Cazares and 18 of his associates on the radar of U.S. law enforcement. He was captured in Mexico in 2012 at a highway checkpoint near Guadalajara, extradited to the United States in March and entered into a plea deal in June.

During his hearing, Cazares said the time before he was arrested was torturous because he couldn’t go out for fear of being arrested, and the risk made him want to go out in public to get caught because he “was tired of being locked up in that house.”

“I was a fugitive of justice at that moment,” Cazares said during the hearing. “I was closed in my home like someone in jail, afraid I’d be arrested.”

In addition to spending 15 years in an actual prison, Carazes is being made to forfeit $10 million linked to his former drug business. He made the first $150,000 payment Tuesday at the hearing.


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