One of the most feared leaders of the Zetas was extradited from Mexico and appeared in U.S. federal court on dozens of drug trafficking charges Friday morning.
Ivan “El Taliban” or “50” Velasquez Caballero went before U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker, who scheduled his detention hearing and arraignment next month, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release.
Velasquez had been in custody since his arrest by Mexican authorities on Sept. 26, 2012 in Mexico’s San Luis Potosi state.
The charges against him stem from a Feb. 17, 2010, superseding indictment charging the defendant and 33 others with 47 counts in a wide-ranging, alleged drug and weapons conspiracy, as well as a host of other kidnapping, murder, racketeering and money laundering charges. Fifteen people have already been convicted in the case.
Prior to his arrest, Velasquez, a Nuevo Laredo, Tamps., native had been one of the top commanders for the Zetas crime syndicate.
Once a group of ex-paramilitary bodyguards for the Gulf Cartel that grew in size until the partners’ dissolution in early 2010, the Zetas rival their former allies for control of lucrative trafficking corridors into the United States.
The hit men, some of whom were former soldiers or police officers, quickly made a name for themselves by their ultraviolent tactics and mutilation of their victim’s bodies.
According to Mexican law enforcement records from the time of Velasquez arrest by the country’s navy, the former Zeta boss was the group’s chief financial officer and ruled over several states in central Mexico.
In mid 2012, the Zetas suffered an internal split when Velasquez, who was number three in the groups command structure, went to war with Miguel Angel “Z40” Treviño Morales, who was the groups number two leader at the time.
During the struggle, Velasquez sought the aid of his former allies the Gulf Cartel in order to overpower Treviño.
Velasquez early in life was a petty thief until he became an errand boy for the Zetas as a teenager. He worked his way to the top, eventually becoming the plaza boss for Nuevo Laredo, navy records show.
At the time of his arrest, there was a $2.3 million reward for Velazquez Caballero, whose arrest followed several arrests of high-profile Zetas leaders.
The then-leader of the organization, Heriberto Lazcano, was killed in October 2012 in a shootout with Mexican marines. The body of Lazcano was stolen by gunmen hours later from a funeral home. Last July, authorities in Mexico arrested Lazcano’s successor, Miguel Trevino Morales in Nuevo Laredo.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.