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Imprisoned Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cárdenas Guillén transferred again; release date reduced to 2024

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“MX” for Borderland Beat

Former Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, once considered Mexico’s most-wanted drug lord, is no longer imprisoned in the USP Florence High in Colorado. He is now at the USP Lewisburg in Pennsylvania. The transfer was not reported by the press and it is unclear exactly when it occurred.

Cárdenas Guillén was the top leader of the Gulf Cartel from 1999 to 2003. During his tenure, he hired several ex-military members to form part of the cartel’s newly formed paramilitary wing, Los Zetas. In his heyday, he became one of the most-wanted international fugitives. Arrested in Mexico in 2003, Cárdenas Guillén was extradited to the U.S. in 2007.

He was sentenced to 25 years in prison without the possibility for parole in 2010, but his sentence term has been reduced multiple times. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Cárdenas Guillén’s new expected release date is scheduled for 30 August 2024. He will be out in four years and before the age of 60. 

Imprisonment in the U.S.
When Cárdenas Guillén was extradited from Mexico to the U.S. in 2007, his location in the U.S. was unknown. Court records later showed that his lawyers were able to secure his stay in two federal penitentiaries in Atlanta and Florida, where he enjoyed several privileges.

In 2010, U.S. federal judge Hilda Tagle ordered Cárdenas Guillén to serve 25 years in prison without parole. He was then transferred to the notorious ADX Florence, a supermax facility that houses the most dangerous inmates. Although originally scheduled for a 2035 release date, the date was reduced to 2028 for his time served in Mexican custody and in the U.S. prior to his sentence.
BOP info showing his new location and reduced release date
As reported by Borderland BeatCárdenas Guillén was transferred from ADX Florence to USP Florence High sometime in April 2019. Though located in the same “complex” (land owned by the BOP), ADX Florence is stricter with inmate interactions and even has different units for dangerous inmates under solitary confinement.

On the other hand, USP Florence High is virtually like other USPs across the U.S. and allows for inmates to mingle with others more freely. It is possible that Cárdenas Guillén was transferred internally as officials prepared for his reinstatement into society. When Cárdenas Guillén was transferred to USP Florence High, his release date was also reduced from 2028 to 2025. 

Post-release questions
As a Mexican national with no legal status in the U.S., Cárdenas Guillén should – in theory – be deported to Mexico after his sentence (often termed as “No lawful return to the U.S.” in court files). But unlike other Gulf Cartel members indicted with him, the U.S. government did not order Cárdenas Guillén’s removal from the U.S. after his sentence concludes.

Cárdenas Guillén provided valuable information to U.S. officials on the Gulf Cartel, Los Zetas and their rivals in exchange for a soother sentence. Cárdenas Guillén’s testimonies were instrumental to law enforcement efforts and helped weakened the influence of his cartel. However, it also had many unintended consequences.

Cárdenas Guillén’s transfer from Matamoros to Mexico City following his 2003 arrest
The information he provided also helped generate violence in Mexico as his cartel suffered schisms and fractures. If Cárdenas Guillén returns to Mexico, it is likely he will face imminent danger. U.S. prosecutors have used the carrot of U.S. visas against high-ranking Mexican drug kingpins to convince them to become informants.

In addition, it is likely that Cárdenas Guillén faces no drug charges in Mexico. According to Article 15 of the Extradition Treaty between Mexico and the U.S., the Mexican government will not extradite a Mexican national unless multiple conditions are met. Among them include:

(1) – a Mexican national cannot be extradited if he/she is facing trial or has outstanding charges in Mexico.

(2) – a Mexican national can be extradited once he/she is sentenced or absolved.

(3) – if the Mexican national is serving a sentence in Mexico, he/she can only be extradited to the U.S. on other charges (thus avoiding double jeopardy).

Since Cárdenas Guillén was not sentenced while in Mexican custody, that means his charges were dropped in Mexico before he was extradited to the U.S., per Article 15.

His new release date is now 30 August 2024, a little over four years from today. He has a five-year probation term once his sentence concludes and he will leave prison before the age of 60.


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