SAN DIEGO (AP) – The son of one of Mexico's most wanted drug lords pleaded guilty Friday to drug trafficking charges that carry a punishment of at least 10 years in prison, the latest development in a federal investigation targeting the Sinaloa cartel.
Serafin Zambada, 24, acknowledged conspiring to bring more than 100 kilograms of cocaine and 1,000 kilograms of marijuana from Mexico to the United States, prosecutors said.
The son of Sinaloa cartel leader Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada could face a maximum sentence of life in prison when he is sentenced May 22 for conspiracy to import cocaine and marijuana.
The younger Zambada was arrested last year at a border crossing in Nogales, Arizona, while traveling with his wife, who was released.
Serafin Zambada, who was born in San Diego and attended high school in Phoenix, was on his way to Phoenix for an appointment with U.S. immigration authorities to arrange legal status for his wife when he was arrested, said Saji Vettiyil, his attorney. Zambada showed border inspectors his U.S. passport.
The younger Zambada was arrested in a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigation that began in late 2011 in the San Diego area, according to court documents. Zambada's attorney has said the investigation involved wiretaps of 30 to 100 phone lines.
The same investigation resulted in last year's arrest of Jose Rodrigo Arechiga, known as "Chino Antrax," who authorities suspect is a Sinaloa cartel enforcer. He was taken into custody after arriving in Amsterdam on a flight from Mexico City.
Arechiga, who was extradited to face charges in San Diego, is accused by U.S. authorities of providing personal security to Ismael Zambada and his family and killing Zambada family rivals.
Vettiyil said the elder Zambada gave no legal advice to his son and did not pay his attorney. He said Serafin Zambada's clean criminal history will allow him to argue for a lighter sentence than the 10-year minimum.
"He was a young man, he has a family, he has a university degree, and his involvement was quite limited compared to other people," Vettiyil said.