Cartel commander given 20 years by Houston federal judge for conspiracy to import drugs

By Tulsi Kamath - Digital Content Producer

HOUSTON - A 34-year-old Mexican man was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison this week after pleading guilty in 2014 to conspiring to important huge amounts of cocaine and marijuana into the U.S., according to a release from the U.S. Attorney's Office. 

Luis Ivan Nino-Duenes admitted to being the right-hand man of Jose Luiz Zuniga-Hernandez, also known as Wicho or XW, a plaza boss controlling the El Control region for the Cartel Del Golfo between 2008 and 2011. 

"Cartel Del Golfo (CDG) transnational criminal organization plaza bosses are appointed to specific regions to help coordinate the importation and distribution of multi-ton shipments of cocaine, marijuana and other illicit narcotics within Mexico and into the United States," officials explained in the release. "They are the lead representatives for the CDG in a particular region or town, responsible for maintaining control of the region and ensuring the safe passage of narcotics."

Zuniga-Hernandez had about 120 lookouts and 60 "estacas" in El Control. An "estaca" is a vehicle with three or four armed personnel. Nino-Duenes commanded the "estacas" and so he was in charge of between 180 and 240 armed personnel who patrolled the region. 

Prosecutors showed Zuniga-Hernandez and his men smuggled more than 1,000 kilograms of cocaine and 3,000 kilograms of marijuana into the U.S. each month. 

How they were caught 

In Oct. 2011, Nino-Duenes. Zuniga-Hernandez and two others got in a gunbattle in Mexico due to a power struggle within the ranks of the CDG plazas. The four of them escaped to the U.S. and hid near the Rio Grande River. 

When they were caught, officials found a gold, diamond and ruby-encrusted gun, more than $39,000 in cash and several cellphones with them. They found discussions on the phones with a man called "Apa," who was later identified as Jorge Eduardo Costilla-Sanchez, the head of the CDG. 

Nino-Duenes' crimes

Federal prosecutors listed Nino-Dunes' crimes in court during the punishment hearing this week, with the goal of trying to increase the sentencing guideline range, officials wrote in a press release. The crimes prosecutors said Nino-Duenes committed include: 

  • He was the leader of an extensive criminal enterprise comprising more than five people
  • He used automatic weapons, grenades, homemade cannons and body armor to provide security during the buying, transportation and distribution of drugs. 
  • He commanded, directed and engaged in violent confrontations with other cartels to keep control of the plazas in Mexico
  • He received enhancements for importing methamphetamines into the U.S. and maintained a facility where it could be made or distributed 

Zuniga-Hernandez was previously sentenced to 50 years in prison. 

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