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Links Between Sinaloans and Mafia Group 'Ndrangheta Are Uncovered In Italian Trial Involving Two Suspects

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The two Guatelamans in Italian custody worked for fugitive Sinaloa Cartel trafficker Jose Angel Rivera Zazueta, alias El Flaco. He is one of the Sinaloa Cartel’s main operators in Europe.

Two Guatemalans imprisoned in Italy for smuggling drugs for the Sinaloa Cartel are scheduled for trial on May 18, 2021. They are accused of trafficking 385 kg (848 lbs) of cocaine into Italy.

The two defendants are Daniel Esteban Ortega Úbeda, alias Tito, and Félix Rubén Villagrán López. They will face trial for drug trafficking at a tribunal court in Catania.

Italian prosecutors were initially looking to have both of them sentenced to 21 years, but since both defendents agreed to a summary judgement (i.e. partial trial), the sentence recommendation was reduced to 14 years: eight for organized crime involvement and six for drug trafficking.

Defense attorney Ofelia Liñán Aguilera, flanked by her Italian colleague Luigi Tozzi, has asked for the acquittal for her clients, believing that during the investigation that led to their arest, police officers ‘induced’ the commission of the crime.

They stressed that at some point during the investigation, the defendants thought of backing down from the drug deal the police were setting up to catch them. They said that the undercover agents encouraged them to do a crime and that this diminishes their culpability.

“The agents were fully involved in this drug deal that they are partially responsible for it as well,” the lawyer explained by phone.

Liñan-Aguilera, who is based in Sevilla, Spain, but was hired by the defendants for this case, said that she is optimistic about the court’s resolution. The court will have to determine in the next few days if the two defendants are allowed to be moved to house arrest.

A third defendant, currently on the run, is Mexican national José Ángel Rivera Zazueta, alias El Flaco, a close operator of Sinaloa Cartel leader Ismael ‘El Mayo Zambada. Liñan-Aguilera said that she will push for a summary judgement trial for him as well should he be arrested.

El Flaco arrived in Italy in 2019. Reports say he lives in Asia and may be related to one of the nephews of legendary drug kingpin Amado Carrillo Fuentes. 


The trial is part of an investigation that tried to uncover an initiative of the Sinaloa Cartel to introduce drugs into Europe through new routes such as the Catania Fontanarossa Airport. Investigators say that the Sinaloa Cartel is working with the Calabrian mafia group ‘Ndrangheta.

El Flaco is believed to be in charge of directing the Catania cell of the Sinaloa Cartel and of receiving cocaine from countries such as Colombia. The Guatemalans Ortega and Villagrán were arrested in Verona in January 2020, where they flew from Cartagena, Colombia, to close a drug deal.

Behind the facade of a soap import and export business, El Flaco controlled fentanyl production laboratories in China, Vietnam and Taiwan, which have been on the radar of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for four years.

A native of Sinaloa state, El Flaco relied on four trusted men: Salvador Ascencio Chávez —of Mexican origin, convicted on two occasions for trafficking hundreds of kilos of cocaine to Canada— and three Guatemalan citizens settled in Europe: Luis Fernando Morales Hernández, alias ‘El Suegro’, and the two Guatemalans in question.

Daniel “Tito” Esteban Ortega Ubeda and Felix Ruben Villagran Lopez in Verona, where they traveled from southern Italy for a cocaine deal.

Once in European territory, the drugs are handed over to the ‘Ndrangheta, an Italian mafia group that dominates the cocaine trade in Europe. This group is based Calabria, one of the poorest regions of Italy.

The OCCRP revealed details of the intentions of the Sinaloa Cartel to establish itself in the European market. They said that the 385 kilograms were a test that would be followed by more tons.

According to court documents, the investigation is code-named Operation Halcon. It was established with the help of an informant, who was involved in the shipment of the cargo. This subject alerted the authorities and provided access to meetings with El Flaco.

Sources: Diario Libre; Infobae (1); (2); IrpiMedia


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