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Sinaloa Cartel operative Felipe Cabrera Sarabia presented before the press after his 2011 arrest (image credit: ABC7 Chicago)

Felipe Cabrera Sarabia, a former high-ranking member of the Sinaloa Cartel, implored a US federal judge for mercy during his 19-year sentencing on Tuesday afternoon.

Earlier this month, Cabrera wrote a letter from his Chicago jail cell, begging the judge for leniency. In the letter, Cabrera predominantly referred to God and his belief in divine intervention.

The drug trafficker humbly admitted, “Only God knows,” before sending his blessings to the judge, awaiting the announcement of his fate.

“Yes, there were family there, very close knit family. And they came from Mexico and parts of the United States, to be with him,” said Ralph Meczyk, Cabrera’s attorney.

Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman of the U.S. District Court sentenced Cabrera to over 19 years in prison. She expressed uncertainty about whether this would effectively discourage drug dealers. While the judge recognized Cabrera’s past community efforts, she emphasized that her community had been severely affected by the influx of dangerous drugs from cartels.

In a letter, Cabrera begged for jail time leniency. “God for forgiveness…” and then the judge herself: “I beg you to please be merciful,” Cabrera writing. “Only God truly knows of all the hardships” his family has endured. “God only knows how it feels to be without a family.”

To that the judge responded: “I’m sorry your family is going to miss you” she said. But “that’s the price” of drug trafficking.

“I’m satisfied. I really am. I thought the judge was very thorough and she gave a very, very fair hearing. So I’m satisfied,” Meczyk told the press after sentencing.

In January, Cabrera confessed to trafficking cocaine and heroin for the Sinaloa Cartel, a criminal organization that US investigators say is responsible for 80 percent of Chicago’s illegal drugs.

He is being credited for the time he spent in a Mexican jail before being extradited. As part of his punishment, he is expected to serve around nine more years in the United States before he is deported back to Mexico.

Kingpin Act designation chart displaying the Cabrera-Sarabia network


Felipe Cabrera-Sarabia was born in Mexico on 23 August 1971. According to the U.S. government, Cabrera-Sarabia was involved in drug trafficking activities since at least 1996. He went by his aliases El Inge / Ingeniero (The Engineer), El Señor de la Sierra (The Lord of the Mountain Range), and Miguel Velazquez Manjarrez.

Cabrera-Sarabia first worked under Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada in the Mexican state of Durango, where he controlled large marijuana and poppy plantations and was responsible for supervising heroin, cocaine and marijuana trafficking activities to the U.S.

Most of the cocaine and heroin that was smuggled to the U.S. under Cabrera-Sarabia’s network was sent to the Chicago, Illinois area. The drugs in Chicago were coordinated by the twin brothers Pedro and Margarito Flores and El Mayo’s eldest son Vicente Zambada Niebla (“El Vicentillo”). U.S. prosecutors have phone recordings between them.

On 18 March 2015, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned Cabrera-Sarabia and his brothers Jose Luis and Alejandro under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act). The U.S. government stated that they were “major heroin and marijuana” suppliers for the Sinaloa Cartel in the state of Durango.

As part of the Kingpin Act, their U.S. assets were frozen and U.S. entities were prohibited from engaging in business transactions with them. The sanction stated that the Cabrera Sarabia brothers had provided material and financial assistance to both El Mayo and El Chapo.

Arrest and extradition

Cabrera-Sarabia was arrested by the Mexican Army on 26 December 2011 in Culiacan, Sinaloa. Mexican investigators said that he was a commander of Gente Nueva, an armed wing responsible for fighting rival cartel members in states like Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Durango and Sonora. Cabrera-Sarabia was also believed to have been involved in mass disappearances in Durango where victims were buried in mass graves.

In 2018, he was sentenced to 24 years and 3 months in prison for organized crime involvement, illegal possession of military-exclusive firearms, and bribery. He was convicted of bribery because he tried to pay off officials in Mexico’s former Attorney General’s Office (PGR) and the National Supreme Court of Justice (SCJN). He was extradited to the US on June 2020.

Sources: ABC7Chicago; Borderland Beat archives