Accused Sinaloa cartel top operative Felipe Cabrera Sarabia trying to avoid more jail time

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Ross Weidner WLS logo
Tuesday, January 31, 2023
Accused top Sinaloa cartel operative trying to cut deal
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Felipe Cabrera Sarabia, known as 'the Engineer,' is accused of being a top operative at the Sinaloa drug cartel and is drawing up plans to get out of prison.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- An accused top operative for the Sinaloa drug cartel, that still controls a majority of cocaine and heroin sold in Chicago, is drawing up legal plans to get out of prison.

Felipe Cabrera Sarabia is also known as the "Engineer," a nickname he supposedly got because of his knack for engineering covert drug routes using planes, trains, trucks and even submarines.

The I-Team has learned that even as Chicago prosecutors continue to file secret sealed motions in the lingering El Chapo case, the "Engineer" is working on legal plans to get out of prison.

But the 51-year-old's bid for freedom may involve more brain power than fire power.

Sarabia claims to be a cattle rancher and not a cocaine kingpin, but according to prosecutors in a plea deal cut 10 days ago he was "an organizer or leader of criminal activity that involved five or more participants."

That means when he is sentenced in early July at the Dirksen Federal courthouse, the government will ask for enhanced punishment and will paint Sarabia as a leader and organizer of El Chapo's Sinaloa structure, which would make him eligible for more time in prison.

Sarabia has already been locked up in for 11-and-a-half years, serving time at the MCC in Chicago and possibly other prisons elsewhere.

According to the plea deal, Sarabia will fight the enhancement, claiming he was a soldier following El Chapo's orders and not a lieutenant making decisions.

If he can prove that he was no boss, Sarabia would probably be released for time served, which is what his defense team would typically ask for in this situation.

As El Chapo's men continue to fall or be pursued as fugitives, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman himself remains locked up, serving a life sentence at the SuperMax prison in Colorado.

El Chapo was convicted in New York and remains under indictment in Chicago, but will likely never be prosecuted in Illinois because he's already serving a life sentence.

The "Engineer" and his attorneys are expected to make their case for leniency at a July 7 sentencing hearing in Chicago.

Meanwhile, the mammoth El Chapo drug conspiracy case continues to chug along. The guts of the investigation go back to 2008, and indictments began in 2009. This will remain an open and active case until El Chapo's second in command, Ismael " El Mayo" Garcia, is arrested or dead.

El Mayo has been a fugitive for 14 years, ever since Chicago prosecutors named him in the sweeping charges.