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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of California

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sinaloa Cartel Trafficker Victor Emilio Cazares Gastellum Sentenced to 180 Months in Prison

Assistant U. S. Attorney Orlando Gutierrez (619) 546-6958    

NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – October 25, 2016

SAN DIEGO – Drug kingpin Victor Emilio Cazares Gastellum, who for years was one of the United States’ most-wanted Mexican drug trafficking suspects, was sentenced in federal court today to 180 months in custody for his role as the leader of a large-scale narcotics trafficking organization.

Cazares, also known as “El Licenciado,” was indicted by a federal grand jury in San Diego in 2007, along with 18 of his suspected lieutenants and foot soldiers. Cazares’ organization shipped multi-ton quantities of drugs from Colombia and Venezuela through Central America to Mexico. The narcotics were then smuggled across the Southwestern border, eventually making their way throughout the United States.

During today’s sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge William Q. Hayes, Cazares was also ordered to forfeit $10 million which he admitted represented proceeds from his drug distribution activities. Prior to his sentencing, Cazares provided the government with $150,000 cashier’s check as a partial initial payment.

According to his plea agreement, Cazares admitted he was the head of a large-scale Mexico-based drug distribution organization referred to as the “Cazares Organization.” The Cazares Organization was a vertical drug trafficking organization responsible for purchasing and coordinating the importation and distribution of controlled substances from Mexico into the United States.

Cazares admitted that during the course of the conspiracy, he was responsible for distributing more than 450 kilograms of cocaine within the Southern District of California. Cazares utilized a narcotics transportation cell that imported Cazares’s controlled substances into the United States.

The United States issued a provisional arrest warrant for Cazares following his indictment, and the U.S. Department of State offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest and/or conviction. Cazares was captured by Mexican authorities about five years later, on April 8, 2012, at a highway checkpoint near the western city of Guadalajara. 

Cazares was believed to be aligned with Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman, former leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, one of the most notorious and violent drug trafficking organizations operating in Mexico. The Sinaloa Cartel imports and distributes hundreds of tons of cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana into the United States each year.

The underlying indictments were announced at a news conference in San Diego by then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The 22-month sting, code-named “Operation Imperial Emperor,” resulted in the nationwide arrests of 402 people suspected of working for the cartel, more than $45 million in cash and tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana.

DEFENDANT                                               Case Number: 07CR0449

Victor Emilio Cazares Gastellum                   Age: 53                      


Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substance, in violation of Title 21, U.S.C., Secs. 846 and 841(a)(1);


Drug Enforcement Administration

El Centro Police Department





Drug Trafficking
Press Release Number: 
Updated October 25, 2016