Internet posts provide incriminating look at lives of Mexico’s narco families

McClatchy Foreign StaffNovember 25, 2013 

— The sons and daughters of Mexico’s most renowned outlaws just can’t refrain from posting photos of their lavish lifestyles online: Fat bundles of cash. Gold-plated assault rifles. Pet lions and tigers. Tricked-out dune buggies.

All is on display on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It’s like peering at a gossip magazine for the underground rich and famous as they hide from the law.

The arrest last week in Arizona of the son of the alleged No. 2 leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Mexico’s most powerful criminal syndicate, brought attention to his social media accounts and those of his closest friends, including the son of the nation’s most wanted man, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Serafin Zambada Ortiz, 23, was detained Wednesday as he crossed on foot from Mexico to Nogales, Ariz. Zambada, the U.S.-born son of wanted Sinaloa leader Ismael Zambada, made the crossing despite his indictment in U.S. federal court on charges of trafficking methamphetamine and cocaine.

Going by his Twitter (@zambadaserafin) and Facebook posts, Zambada seemed eager to share with the world his decadent lifestyle, apparently feeling invulnerable.

On July 10, Zambada tweeted a photo of three gold- and silver-plated AK-47 assault rifles with the message, “partying and . . . taking care of ourselves.”

The next day, Zambada’s account had a photo of huge stacks of bundled 500 peso notes (each worth nearly $40), several feet high and so numerous that counting was inefficient. “Weighing the cash,” Zambada posted.

Other photos showed bags of marijuana, a pet cheetah, a tiger cub, a full-grown lion, a new Range Rover piled high with presents, and lots and lots of guns.

The tweeted photos seem, at best, indiscreet.

“It’s not what I’d be doing if I were running a criminal network,” said Rusty Payne, a spokesman in Washington for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Payne said U.S. anti-narcotics agents peruse social media “if it helps us put a puzzle together. There’s a lot of open source stuff out there.”

One of the photos on his Facebook page shows Zambada wearing a hoodie and putting his arms around a lion in front of a Mercedes-Benz.

Among Zambada’s Facebook and Twitter pals is Alfredo Guzman (@alfredoguzma), one of the sons of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, the head of the Sinaloa Cartel and a man with a $5 million price tag on his head from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The younger Guzman, offspring of the alleged drug lord’s liaison with Alejandrina Guzman, the first of several companions, posted photos of the private mercenaries who protect the capos and their kin.

“My active armed commando,” says one of Guzman’s tweets with a photo.

A photo of a dead man was attached to another Guzman tweet. It said the victim tried to pass himself off as part of the Guzman clan and paid the price.

Other photos showed the steering wheel of a Bentley luxury sedan, a private grass airstrip with small aircraft, a huge teddy bear propped up holding an assault rifle, and the front of Club Dubai, a ritzy nightclub in Culiacan, capital of Sinaloa state.

The two men often copied their top henchmen on their tweets. One of the guards tweets under the name “El Chino Antrax” (@comandante57_), and describes himself as the “Sinaloan Scarface, fanatical about guns and 100 (percent) with the Zambadas. . . . I’ll see you in hell.”

The man posted a photo of a black Lamborghini sports car with a driver hoisting an AK-47 out of its window.

Not all offspring, nephews and cousins of the Sinaloa Cartel leaders are imprudent about boasting of the business of their families.

Jim Creechan, a retired Canadian academic who once taught university courses in Culiacan, said one of his former students, a relative of a cartel operative, showed him some Facebook pages of younger clan members displaying bling and guns.

“My contact told me he disapproved because he got the word directly from El Chapo to ‘watch what you make public.’ He clearly listened – but he is probably older (by a bit) than these latest ‘posters,’” Creechan said in an email. “My contact also told me that he was told to stay away from drugs, and to never bring attention to himself. He basically said, ‘Do drugs or point to us and you are ‘cut off’ or ‘worse.’”

Serafin Zambada was scheduled to appear Monday at a detention hearing in Tucson. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego is seeking his removal to stand trial there.

The indictment against him, which was partially unsealed in late September, says only that prosecutors plan to try him for importing small amounts of methamphetamine and 11 pounds or more of cocaine into the United States.

Zambada’s father, who is considered the logistical chief of the Sinaloa Cartel, is wanted on U.S. indictments in Chicago, Brooklyn, N.Y., and El Paso, Texas. The cartel is believed to be behind the smuggling of multiple tons a month of cocaine and other narcotics into the United States. Another Zambada son, Vicente, is awaiting trial in Chicago on money laundering and drug trafficking charges.

Like many of the offspring of cartel leaders, Serafin Zambada married the daughter of a top cartel operative, Manuel Torres Felix, who was killed in a clash with soldiers 13 months ago. Zambada’s wife, Karime Ellameli Torres, was with him when he was arrested but was quickly released, said Kelly Thornton, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego.

Unlike her husband, Torres does not appear to have Twitter or Facebook accounts under her real name.

Email: tjohnson@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @timjohnson4

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