On August 5, a new series dropped on Netflix titled World’s Most Wanted, which profiles five of the most wanted fugitives in the world. One of these notorious criminals is drug lord Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, a 72-year-old Mexican crime leader believed to be at the head of the Sinaloa cartel.
Zambada was indicted in 2003 by the FBI and charged with smuggling massive amounts of drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine into the U.S. and distributing it. Despite a large reward for information leading to his capture from both the Mexican and American governments, Zambada is still at large and is believed to be hiding in the mountains of Sinaloa state in Mexico.
Zambada has a large family, many of whom are deeply involved in the cartel lifestyle and some who have been arrested for their involvement. Here’s what you need to know about Ismael Zambada Garcia’s family:
1. He Is Married & Has Eight Children, Many of Whom Are Involved in the Sinaloa Cartel
Zambada was born on January 1, 1948, in Mexico. A research paper into Mexican criminal and terrorist activity by the Library of Congress’s Federal Research Division described Zambada as a former farmer with “extensive agricultural and botanical knowledge.”
He is married to Rosario Niebla Cardoza and has eight known children, although not all were with his wife. According to Spanish naming customs, it appears that he has four daughters and a son with his wife Rosario since they all share his surname, Zambada, followed by their maternal surname, Niebla. The FBI produced a chart showing that Zambada’s wife and all five of their children are involved in the cartel operations: his daughters María Teresa, Midiam Patricia, Mónica del Rosario, and Modesta, and his son Vicente.
He also has three other sons as the FBI pointed out in their indictment, which states that the charges target “two of his four sons.” His three other sons have different surnames, indicating that they all have different mothers: Serafín Zambada Ortiz, Ismael Zambada Imperial and Ismael Zambada Sicairos.
2. One of His Sons Was Arrested & Extradited to the U.S., Where He Testified Against Zambada’s Associate El Chapo
One of Zambada’s sons, Vicente Zambala Niebla, was born in Mexico on March 24, 1975, and he is sometimes known by his nickname, “El Vicentillo.” He was arrested in Mexico in 2009, shortly after he became the head of security and operations for the Sinaloa cartel, authorities believed. He was known for having a partying lifestyle and he was once recorded discussing explosives purchases, drug shipments and possible retaliation attacks against Mexican law enforcement, leading to his arrest.
Since he had previously been indicted in the U.S., a year after his arrest in Mexico he was extradited to Chicago to face those charges, with a possible sentence of life in prison. However, he secretly pleaded guilty in 2013 and began working with the authorities to provide information about rival cartels as well as his own, the Sinaloa cartel, Chicago Tribune reported.
In 2019, he received a reduced sentence of 15 years as part of a plea deal as he was deemed incredibly cooperative. He should be eligible for release in a few years thanks to his time served, at which point he will most likely enter witness protection. The Chicago Tribune reported that U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo said at the sentencing that Zambada Niebla’s information was critical in capturing and charging the infamous drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Zambada’s associate.
3. Many of His Other Sons Are Involved in the Cartel & Have Shared Their Experiences
The cartel is truly a family affair in the Zambada household, and most of Zambada’s known children participate in the organization in some shape or form. Two of his sons, Ismael Zambada Sicairos (known as “Mayito Flaco”) and Ismael Zambada Imperial (known as “Mayito Gordo”) were named in the FBI indictment as key members of the cartel. Zambada Imperial was arrested in Mexico in November 2014.
Serafín Zambada Ortiz, who is a U.S. citizen born in San Diego, was arrested for his involvement and sentenced to five and a half years in prison in March 2018. He opened up about growing in the cartel world, saying that a car bomb went off outside his second birthday party. A hotel room he’d just left with his mother was attacked by gunmen when he was nine, and they killed his grandparents and his uncle and aunt.
Zambada Ortiz’s mother said, “From 1992 to the year 2000 the days were difficult and bloody and a stupid senseless war where many families were destroyed and with a lot of pain in their hearts.”
In addition to Zambada’s children’s involvement, his brother Jesus was also arrested and accused of smuggling drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border, NBC News reported in 2009.
4. He Worked Closely With Notorious Drug Lord El Chapo & Their Families Were Joined, But Some Believe Zambada Betrayed Him
Rosa Isela Guzmán Ortiz, who claims to be El Chapo’s daughter, standing in line outside the court. This could be the last time she gets to see him. pic.twitter.com/EOtSqbLM7b
— pattyguerrad (@PattyGuerraD) July 17, 2019
Zambada previously shared leadership of the Sinaloa cartel with the notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman until the latter was arrested in 2016. Since then, Zambada has been the sole leader of the cartel, although there have been reports lately that El Chapo’s sons could be challenging him for control of the cartel.
A 2016 CNN article describes Zambada as El Chapo’s “partner, possible successor to the cartel as well as his possible betrayer.”
El Chapo’s daughter, Rosa Isela Guzmán Ortiz, sat down with the Guardian and shared that when she was 15, she reconnected with her father, who told her he wanted her to marry Vicente, Zambada’s son, who was 16 at the time. Rosa actually ended up getting pregnant before their wedding, angering both sets of parents. They had a second child after their marriage as well, joining the families of El Chapo and Zambada.
Rosa says that she’s convinced El Chapo was betrayed by Zambada: “We’re completely sure El Mayo betrayed him. They used to always meet in private places and my dad found it strange that he had suggested that place.”
5. His Son-in-Law Died After Being Electrocuted at His Home in 2014
Doña Rosario Niebla, (primero esposa del Mayo Zambada) y Midiam Zambada Niebla hija del mayo.Madre y hermana de Vicente pic.twitter.com/i7GYWB1q
— Teresita Mendoza (@TeressaMendozaa) December 7, 2012
One of Zambada’s family members died tragically in 2014 after getting electrocuted at home in Culiacán. Juan Gabriel González Ibarra was married to Zambada’s daughter Midiam Patricia at the time of his death. The 42-year-old was brought to the hospital before being pronounced dead.
According to a local news article, on June 18, 2014, the authorities were alerted to a home near the Xicoténcatl boulevard, in the Las Quintas neighborhood, amid reports that someone had suffered burns.
Zambada’s daughter Midiam was identified by the U.S. Treasury department as a “front person” for the cartel’s illegal transactions. Midiam and her sisters owned a handful of companies that were sanctioned under the Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, which means their U.S. assets were frozen and they are prevented from any dealings with Americans.