Former Gulf Cartel leader enters guilty plea

A former leader of the Gulf Cartel appeared in federal court in Brownsville on Thursday, where he entered a guilty plea on count one of an indictment charging him with manufacturing and distributing massive amounts of cocaine and marijuana.

Jorge Eduardo Costilla-Sánchez appeared with his attorney before U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez Jr. in an orange jumpsuit, handcuffs, shackles, and a belly chain.

He pleaded guilty to Count 1 of a 4th superseding indictment transferred to the Southern District of Texas from the District of Columbia.

Costilla-Sánchez previously pleaded guilty in 2017 to two counts of assault on a federal officer. He has yet to be sentenced for this offense.

A government prosecutor re-arraigned Costilla-Sánchez, specifying that details which arose from the case — complete with 26 defendants — in which the man is estimated to have been personally responsible for the distribution of at least 450 kilograms of cocaine and over 90,000 kilograms of marijuana.

The amounts equate to over 992 pounds of cocaine and roughly 198,416 pounds of marijuana, respectively.

Those listed in the indictment were charged with conspiring to manufacture and distribute cocaine and marijuana in Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Panama, and elsewhere for eventual distribution in the United States.

During the hearing, Costilla-Sánchez’s attorney argued two objections to the charges, including that his client did not “agree or admit” to the estimated amount of 90,000 kilograms of marijuana, as he was unaware of how much marijuana he had distributed.

An additional objection was raised regarding drug seizures in Panama and Mexico in 2007 that Sánchez said he wasn’t aware of and didn’t recall.

The prosecutor said that authorities seized 2,400 kilograms of illicit drugs in Tampico in 2007. A separate bust the same year led to the seizure of 700 kilograms of cocaine in Colón, Panama.

Costilla-Sánchez was initially listed in the federal indictment on Nov. 15, 2007, but was not arrested until September 2012 when the Mexican Navy located him in Tampico, Tamaulipas, according to reports written at the time of his arrest.

Those reports also indicated that the arrest was the direct result of information shared by Mario Cárdenas Guillén, whose brother Antonio Ezequiel Cárdenas Gúillen also ran the cartel and was listed first in the indictment before he was killed by the Mexican Navy in 2010.

Costilla-Sánchez was placed in control of Matamoros following the 2007 extradition of former Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cárdenas Guillén to the United States. The extradition, in combination with Guillén’s 2003 arrest in Mexico, caused infighting among involved groups and a reorganization of the cartel’s power structure.

Costilla-Sánchez allegedly ordered the assassination of a leader of Los Zetas, prompting the groups to formally split in 2010. The move sparked excessive violence among warring factions that spilled onto the streets of northern Tamaulipas.

On Thursday, Costilla-Sánchez admitted to arranging the transport and distribution of the drugs for the Gulf Cartel. He used contacts networked through his position as a police officer in Matamoros to facilitate the cartel’s work, according to prosecutors.

The attorneys accused Costilla-Sánchez of taking over the operation, controlling shipments, and maintaining control of various plazas. The man also admitted to maintaining control of hitmen and ordering assassinations and other acts of violence against adversaries throughout his career, according to prosecutors.

Attorneys cited operations from Nuevo Laredo to Matamoros, all of which Costilla-Sánchez told the court that he was in control of.

The man answered, “Yes,” when the judge asked whether the allegations read by the prosecutors were true.

Costilla-Sánchez faces life in prison, a life-long term of supervised release, and a $10 million fine. The mandatory minimums attached to the charge are a prison term of 10 years in federal custody and a minimum of five years of supervised release.

The judge also informed the court that forfeiture or restitution for victims could be ordered as a result of the guilty plea.

Costilla-Sánchez’s sentence will run concurrently.

Costilla-Sánchez will be sentenced in Brownsville on April 14.