Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has been viewed by some of his countrymen as a modern-day Robin Hood, inspiring Mexico’s “downtrodden” despite allegations he led the Sinaloa Cartel.
But if the brother of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, Guzman’s alleged partner-in-crime, is to be believed, the cartel’s structure resembled that of any ordinary corporation—exemplifying the bland hierarchy of garden-variety capitalism.
Jesus Zambada Garcia testified late Wednesday against Guzman in Brooklyn federal court, where the alleged drug kingpin faces a 17-count indictment for trafficking nearly a half-million pounds of coke into the U.S. over a 30-year period. Zambada claimed that he met Guzman shortly after his first prison escape in 2001.
“The first time that I saw him, my brother was helping him escape from a military operation,” Zambada said through a Spanish-to-English translator. “He had just escaped from the prison Puente Grande a few days before and [the Mexican military] were about to capture him.”
Zambada said he signed on with the cartel in 1997 and implemented an accounting system in the organization. From 1998 until his capture in 2008, Zambada led the cartel’s Mexico City operation, running three bodegas, translated in court to mean “warehouses,” from which coke was then moved into the U.S.
About 80 to 100 tons of coke was transported from Zambada’s bodegas into the U.S. per year over his 10-year tenure as Sinaloa’s main man in Mexico City, he claimed.
Five Sinaloa leaders would invest money into cocaine shipped from Columbia to Mexico, he testified, and then bring this cocaine into the U.S. from Mexico. Profits were then split between the Mexicans and Colombians, Zambada said on the stand. The model was to insulate participants from risk and maximize profit, he said.
“If something’s lost, for each of them, that’s a small amount,” he said. “It is one organization, and they help each other.”
Meanwhile, a hierarchy served as the logistical backbone of the corporate structure. At the top were leaders like Guzman and El Mayo, followed by sub-leaders like Zambada, who ran warehouses, and workers like the sicarios, who kill people. Corrupt government officials enabled cartel activities, Zambada testified.
Planes, trains, automobiles and boats in a wide variety of sizes and speeds were used to ferry cocaine from Columbia to Mexico and onward. Human chains would form when boats that ferried their cocaine neared Mexico’s coastline, to bring it ashore more quickly. The drugs would later be protected “in a kind of rubber we called a ‘condom,’” he recalled, prompting chuckles in the courtroom.
Of course, marketing came into play. Packs of cocaine were branded with cheeky names such as Reina (Queen), Sapphire, Pacman, Condor and Corona. (He didn’t say if Corona referred to the beer or aura that surrounds the sun.)
Even as he testified against Guzman, Zambada still appeared to respect the hierarchy that had made him and his bosses rich.
When marshals led Zambada out of the courtroom during a short break, he nodded at Guzman with notable deference.