Submitted by: Veronica Coffin
One of the prime suspects in the murder of a member of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Special Agent Jaime Zapata, and the attempted slaying of his partner, Special Agent Victor Avila was extradited to the United States by the Mexican government for his part in the drug-cartel’s ambush. U.S. Department of Justice officials said that although 34-year-old Jose Emanuel Garcia Sota (a/k/a Juan Manuel Maldonado Amezcua, Zafado or Safado), of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, had been charged on May 6, 2013, he made his second U.S. court appearance on Friday more than two years later. The case is believed to have been linked to the botched Fast and Furious operation run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
One count of the murder complaint is connected to the slaying of ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata, who alongside Avila was attacked while on assignment in Mexico, allegedly by members of Los Zetas drug cartel. Agent Zapata joined Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry as a murder victim linked to a U.S. government operation that ended up doing more harm than good, according to investigators and lawmakers.
“It has been over four and a half years since ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata valiantly lost his life and Special Agent Victor Avila suffered grave injuries when they were ambushed by gunfire while on assignment in Mexico,” said Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell. “As evidenced by today’s announcement, the passage of time has not lessened our resolve to keep our promise to the family of Special Agent Zapata and to Special Agent Avila and his family, and bring to justice those responsible for this senseless and brutal attack. And we are grateful to the Government of Mexico for its continued partnership in this case.”
Five months following the drug cartel members gunning down Agents Zapata and Avila, the White House reported that Agent Zapata’s family were demanding the government investigate the firearms used by the suspects during the attack on the two unarmed law enforcement officials. To this day, no American official has been implicated or charged for the questionable operation many believe was conducted to show the need for more gun control laws in the United States.
According to a joint U.S. Senate and House statement at the time, the gun that killed Zapata and wounded Víctor Ávila — a semi-automatic WASR-10 rifle — was purchased by Otilio Osorio in the Dallas, Texas. The serial number had been expertly removed from the weapon and it was smuggled into Mexico along with nine additional rifles. Congressional investigators have stated that Osorio was known by the ATF to be a straw purchaser months before he purchased the gun used to kill Zapata, leading them to question the Bureau’s Operation Fast and Furious gun smuggling investigation that allegedly led to the illegal purchase and export of the murder weapon.
The statement from Congressman Darrell Issa and Senator Chuck Grassley said that they “are pressing for additional information into the murder of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata and the tactics used while conducting surveillance on known straw purchasers, raising concerns similar to policies of Operation Fast and Furious out of the Phoenix office.”
The letter explains “the inconsistent statements by the Justice Department regarding Otilio Osorio, his brother Ranferi Osorio, and Kelvin Morrison. The three straw purchasers were known to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, long before one of the guns purchased by the brothers was linked to the murder of Agent Zapata.”
Several other criminal charges include “one count of attempted murder of an officer or employee of the United States; one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person; and one count of using, carrying, brandishing and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence causing death.”
“Four years ago, on a Mexican roadside, two American heroes came under attack in a violent ambush by members of Los Zetas, a dangerous criminal cartel,” acting U.S. Attorney Vincent Cohen Jr. said in a statement. “Four people have already accepted responsibility for their actions, and now a fifth will be brought to an American courtroom for justice. We will not stop in the pursuit of justice – no matter how far away and how long it takes.”
According to the Justice Department’s records: “Four defendants previously pleaded guilty to offenses based on their roles in the incident. Julian Zapata Espinoza (aka Piolin), 34, pleaded guilty May 23, 2013, to murder and attempted murder. Ruben Dario Venegas Rivera (aka Catracho), 27, pleaded guilty Aug. 1, 2011, to federal charges concerning the murder of Zapata and attempted murder of Avila. Jose Ismael Nava Villagran (aka Cacho), 33, pleaded guilty Jan. 4, 2012, also to federal charges concerning the murder and attempted murder of the ICE agents. Francisco Carbajal Flores (aka Dalmata), 40, pleaded guilty Jan. 10, 2012, to conspiracy to conduct the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity and to being an accessory after the fact to the murder and attempted murder of the agents.”
As part of their guilty pleas, Zapata Espinoza, Venegas and Nava admitted to being members of a Los Zetas “hit squad” and to participating directly in the Feb. 15, 2011, ambush of the two special agents. The fourth defendant, Carbajal, acknowledged assisting Zetas members after the attack.