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High-ranking cartel leader, cousin of drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, sentenced to time served

A high-ranking Mexican drug cartel leader who admitted to coordinating the importation of massive amounts of cocaine and heroin into the United States was sentenced Wednesday in San Diego federal court to time already served in prison.

Sajid Emilio Quintero Navidad, 41, who goes by the moniker “El Cadete,” was once identified as the Beltran Leyva Organization boss who controlled important drug routes in the state of Sonora, which shares a border with Arizona. His notoriety grew in 2012 when he was identified on banners as being the one responsible for a spate of gangland violence in Hermosillo, Agua Prieta and Nogales.

He is also the cousin of infamous drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, who was arrested in Mexico in July after trying to evade capture for nine years. Caro Quintero, who was behind the 1985 murder of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, had until his recent arrest been trying to regain territory in Sonora, resulting in bloody turf battles.

Quintero Navidad was arrested in October 2017 at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, about a month after being indicted on charges of conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine for importation, conspiracy to import the drugs and conspiracy to launder money.

Quintero Navidad pleaded guilty to all three counts in January 2018, admitting to being a leader and organizer. He agreed to forfeit $1 million in drug proceeds.

The time-served sentence issued Wednesday is equivalent to around 69 months — that’s factoring in the time he has already served in federal prison since his arrest, along with custody credits. He is a Mexican citizen and could be deported upon release.

Prosecutors said in court documents that the investigation into Quintero Navidad stretched over two years and involved wiretaps on more than 100 BlackBerry smartphones. Few details in the case have been released, with many documents, including sentencing memorandums, filed under seal.

For years, the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control had considered him a “special designated narcotics trafficker” under the so-called Kingpin Act, which prohibits U.S. citizens and businesses from financial transactions with him and also freezes any of his finances in the U.S.

Quintero Navidad was formerly a member of the Sinaloa drug cartel and a close associate of one of its leaders, fugitive Ismael Zambada Garcia, but he later changed alliances and joined the Beltran Leyva group.

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