In this Intelligence Report: Why the Mexican druglord will be moved to a new prison facility.
Despite a week-old court order, Bureau of Prison officials apparently consider Vincente Zambada such a sniper risk that they don't have any way to protect him if they let him exercise with other inmates on the roof of the downtown Metro Correctional Center.
So, the plan is that Zambada will be moved to some other facility in order to keep him alive or prevent a rooftop escape.
Even on this 79 degree sunny day, there was no sign of the druglord on the MCC's rooftop sports court. Wednesday afternoon, only a few inmates were visible beneath the wire netting intended to defeat a helicopter escape.
Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla -- that's his full name -- is the underboss of the Sinoloa drug cartel in Mexico, a ruthless organization that has used choppers in the past to extricate their leaders from prison.
But it is the larger possibility of a sniper picking off Zambada were he allowed onto the rooftop for an hour of exercise that has officials concerned. The MCC playground 27 stories up is surrounded by high-rises. Because the rooftop offers such a kill zone, federal prison officials and prosecutors have kept Zambada locked up in solitary confinement for more than a year and a half.
Defense lawyers last week convinced Judge Ruben Castillo to allow Zambada out for exercise. But, Wednesday, federal authorities told Castillo they are trying to comply with the order by moving the prison to a different facility.
Warden Catherine Linaweaver has said in an affidavit that Zambada would be an "easy target...attacks could be staged" from nearby high-rises or his cartel cohorts might effectuate an escape. The threat, she claims, would risk the lives of staff, public and Zambada himself.
Zambada is charged with trafficking more than a billion dollars in cocaine and heroin. His trial is scheduled for next February.
Zambada claims that he is covered by an immunity deal between Mexico and the U.S.; that because cartel leaders provided federal agents with information about rival drug gangs, he should go free. A new government filing states Zambada is not a cooperating witness.