“HEARST” for Borderland Beat
Through an anonymous email, I was sent an image which appears to show Mayito Gordo, the son of El Mayo, at SeaWorld in San Diego, California. Clues within the image indicate that the photo was taken within the last few months.
There have been no new photos of Ismael Zambada Imperial, alias “Mayito Gordo”, published since his release from US prison in July 2022.
The First Image of a Post-Prison Mayito Gordo
In the emailed photo, a man can be seen walking side-by-side with a woman. They appear to be outdoors in a public space, near a restroom and a bench.
The email title claimed that the photographed man was Mayito Gordo. Side-by-side comparison of the man with the most recent images of Gordo indicate there is a strong likeness between the two.
The baseball cap in the new photo even appears similar to one he wore during a meeting with the musical group La Conquista, however the image resolution is too poor, and the design too plain, for any real comparison.
The image file attached to the email was titled IMG_20230424_203309_777, which would seem to indicate that the photo was taken on April 24, 2023, at 8:09 pm, however, an image can be renamed and furthermore, it has a DPI (dots per inch) of 96, which means its likely not original photo but instead a screenshot, taken on either a smartphone or computer. All other metadata was removed from the image.
In the background, a white banner attached to a metal pole is visible. The bottom of a round, blue symbol is cut off at the top.
If you apply certain image editing filters, the text on the banner becomes easier to read and it appears that it reads “MARCH 3 – APRIL 30”.
A review of festivals taking place in the southern California area show there is only one with the exact starting date of March 3 and ending date of April 30: SeaWorld’s Seven Seas Craft Beer & Food Festival.
The logo for the Seven Seas festival just so happens to be a symbol that’s suspiciously similar in design to the blue circle seen on the banner.
The festival advertises itself saying it will feature “craft beer from favorite local breweries, plus fresh international cuisine infused with local, sustainable ingredients and unique signature flavors from around the world.”
The festival is held inside SeaWorld’s theme park’s location at Mission Bay, San Diego, California. A review of their official map indicates at least 11 different restroom locations within the park.
One of these, the restrooms attached to Nautilus Amphitheater, near Wild Arctic, matches the background of the Mayito Gordo image, as can be seen in these various Google Street View and Google 360:
This match confirms that the image of Mayito was taken in SeaWorld San Diego. The Seven Seas festival takes place at their San Diego location between the months of March and June every year.
Mayito Gordo has been in prison, either in Mexico or the US, from 2014 up until July 2022. Therefore, the only time when he was out of prison and able to attend the Seven Seas festival was in 2023. That means this photo was taken within the last few months.
Review of Mayito Gordo
Mayito Gordo was arrested in Sinaloa, Mexico, back in April 2014, and then extradited to the US in December 2019. He and his lawyers negotiated a plea deal and, in April 2021, he officially pled guilty in a San Diego federal court to some of the charges from the US indictment.
This indictment outlined drug trafficking conspiracy charges, including allegations of Gordo managing the distribution of thousands of pounds of drugs in the US, as well as “directing acts of violence for the purpose of promoting the Sinaloa Cartel’s narcotics trafficking activities.”
In June 2022, a judge determined that Gordo should be fined $5 million dollars and serve 9 years in prison, with – and this is key – credit for time served, which means he would be released in just one month.
US authorities told the magazine Zeta Tijuana that Gordo would be deported back to Mexico after his month was up. They gave an expected deportation date of July 27, 2022.
Through a series of legal filings, Mayito Gordo’s lawyers tried to determine if the Mexican government planned to arrest Gordo once he re-entered Mexico. The Attorney General for Baja California confirmed there were no state level-charges against him but whether there were federal level charges remained unclear.
On July 21, 2022, Mayito Gordo was released from a US prison and he was immediately transported by US immigration agents to temporary holding locations, first to the San Diego Metropolitan Correctional Center and later to Adelanto Detention Facility.
On July 26, Vice News reported that Mayito Gordo and his lawyers were trying to negotiate a deal with federal authorities which would allow him to stay in the US.
Then, July 27 finally arrived. Early in the day, Vice News journalist Keegan Hamilton tweeted out that Gordo’s negotiations had fallen through and that he “was just told his deportation is imminent, he’s on his way back to Mexico.”
So the public waited with baited breath for Gordo to arrive at a US-Mexico border crossing. But he never arrived.
On August 1, US authorities stated that Mayito Gordo was still in southern California and that his parole officers, along with US Marshals, were aware of his current location.
This signaled to many that Gordo had, in fact, negotiated a deal which allowed him to stay in the US, however there was constant media speculation, from publications like La Silla Rota, that lavish Sinaloan parties were actually celebrating Mayito Gordo’s return to Mexico. Many of these videos were later determined to be old footage from a music video shoot.
Mayito Gordo casually enjoying a San Diego theme park alongside a woman is not necessarily surprising, nor does it violate his parole. Nothing about him being there is unexpected. So, why is this photo important at all?
Because getting images of important cartel figures, or former cartel figures, is next to impossible these days. Mexican authorities and US authorities have not been releasing images of cartel detainees lately, even after the figures are convicted and it becomes legal to do so.
Ovidio Guzman was re-arrested last year. His detention was something the Mexican government was proud of, seeing it as an important symbol which showed authorities were willing to take on narcos. However, the government released zero photos of Ovidio.
The same thing happened with Rafael Caro Quintero. All the images we have of them post-arrest come from government personnel discreetly using their smartphone cameras and leaking them online.
The US is increasingly taking a similar approach. When El Huevo, the head of the Northeast Cartel, was deported to America, American authorities released zero images of him. The same happened when Mario Cárdenas Guillén, from the Gulf Cartel, was extradited to the US.
Laws barring Mexican journalists from publishing images of cartel figures without obscuring their eyes have only made this problem worse.
Thats why images exposing the current faces of cartel figures have and always will be vital to true impunity.
Special thanks to Gary and Socalj.
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