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A high-ranking member and former Los Zetas hitman was sentenced Wednesday to seven consecutive life imprisonment sentences for committing numerous murders, and drug and weapons trafficking in Northern Mexico to support a drug distribution operation.

This sentencing was announced by U.S. Attorney Richard Durbin, Western District of Texas.  This investigation was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).

Marciano Millan Vasquez, 34, was sentenced by a U.S. District Judge to seven consecutive life imprisonment sentences for committing and aiding and abetting the commission of numerous murders and other acts of violence that included drug and weapons trafficking in Northern Mexico in furtherance of a drug distribution operation.

“Without mercy or compunction he brutally murdered anyone and everyone as it suited him and his cartel, at times inflicting the cruelest of pain, forcing relatives to watch their loved ones murdered before he turned his blades on them,” stated U.S. Attorney Richard L. Durbin Jr. “Today’s sentence marks an end to his reign of terror over the drug plaza in Piedras Negras.”

On July 19, 2016, following a three-week trial, the jury found Vasquez, aka “Chano,” guilty on all of the following charges:  killing while engaged in drug trafficking; conspiracy to distribute and import marijuana; distribution of controlled substances outside the U.S. intending that they be imported into the U.S.; employing minors in a drug crime; conspiracy to distribute cocaine; conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine; conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime; and, making a false statement to a federal official.

According to court documents, the trial revealed that Vasquez was a member of Los Zetas and served as a sicario (or assassin), drug trafficker and weapons distributor.  In 2013 he took over control of the Piedras Negras “Plaza” (or drug trafficking corridor) for the Los Zetas led by Miguel Trevino Morales, aka “Z-40,” and his brother, Oscar Omar Trevino Morales, aka “Z-42.”

Testimony also revealed that as the “Plaza boss,” Vasquez oversaw the importation and distribution of more than 100,000 kilograms (220,000 pounds) of marijuana, and tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the United States; and he obtained and distributed firearms amongst Los Zetas members. Vasquez also personally distributed multi-kilogram quantities of methamphetamine in the United States. Furthermore, testimony revealed that Vasquez was responsible for the murders of at least 29 individuals in Northern Mexico between January 2009 and July 2015.

In one incident, testimony revealed that in 2013, Vasquez murdered a young girl by dismembering her with an axe and burning her body in front of her parents while laughing and saying, “so you’ll remember me.” Vasquez then ordered that the mother be killed in similar fashion while forcing the father to watch. Vasquez then ordered that the father be killed. According to testimony, Vasquez did so because he and other Los Zetas wanted the father to suffer. In a prior incident, testimony revealed that Vasquez participated in the massacre of numerous people in Piedras Negras and Allende, Coahuila, Mexico, at the hands of Los Zetas members in March 2011.

“The life sentence imposed on Vasquez should be a reminder to all criminals that violence and victimization of the public will not be tolerated and will be met with the full weight of the law,” said Special Agent in Charge Shane Folden, HSI San Antonio. “HSI and its law enforcement partners are committed to ensuring the safety and security of our communities in South Texas.”

“Marciano Millan Vasquez’s sentence to life in federal prison sends a message of our unending resolve to pursue drug traffickers who wreak havoc in our communities. It is another example of our success in the fight against major Mexican drug cartels operating in the United States,” stated Joseph M. Arabit, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Houston Field Division.

Vazquez has remained in federal custody since his arrest in San Antonio on July 15, 2015. He is pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

The following agencies participated in this investigation: U.S. Marshals Service; U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Border Patrol; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); FBI; ICE’s Office of the Chief Counsel; Texas National Guard; the Texas sheriffs’ offices of Guadalupe and Maverick counties; Maverick County Constable’s Office; and the Texas police departments of Austin, San Antonio, Hollywood Park, Castle Hills, Live Oak, Leon Valley and Eagle Pass; Eagle Pass Independent School District; and Richland (Mississippi) Police Department.

The Los Zetas is a powerful drug trafficking organization operating out of Mexico, which funnels thousands of kilograms of cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and other narcotics into the United States each year. The Los Zetas are one of the largest drug cartels operating in Mexico today, with their influence stretching from Central America through Mexico and into cities throughout the United States. The organization is based in the city of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, and has control over several other Mexican cities located along the U.S.-Mexico border, including Ciudad Acuna and Piedras Negras — both located in Coahuila, Mexico.

The large-scale drug trafficking of this organization generates multi-million dollar revenues.

The Los Zetas were first established to be the lethal enforcers for another Mexican drug cartel: The Gulf Cartel. The leaders of the Gulf Cartel recruited former members of the Mexican Army Special Forces from the Groupo Aeromovil de Fuerza Especiales (GAFES) in the late 1990s. However, over time the Los Zetas broke away from the Gulf Cartel and began to operate independently. Heriberto Lazcano, aka Z-3, was the leader of the Los Zetas from 2004 until his death Oct. 7, 2012, in Coahuila, Mexico. After his death, Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, aka Z-40 and his brother Oscar Omar Trevino Morales, aka Z-42 assumed the leadership positions. In April 2009 the President of the United States identified the Los Zetas as a significant foreign narcotics trafficker under the Kingpin Act and the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Z-40 and Z-42 as specially designated narcotics traffickers pursuant to the Kingpin Act in July 2009 and March 2010, respectively.

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