Julian Zapata Espinoza, aka, "El Piolin" and deceased ICE Special Agent Jaime J. Zapata
Four Zeta members extradited to U.S. convicted for murder and attempted murder of two ICE agents in San Luis Potosi.
By H. Nelson Goodson
May 25, 2013
Washington, D.C. - On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced that Julian Zapata Espinoza, 32, also known as "El Piolin," plead guilty in a U.S. federal court for the murder of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent Jaime J. Zapata, 32, and the attempted murder of ICE Special Agent Victor Avila in Mexico. Three other Zeta members in the past two years have pled guilty to related charges, Ruben Dario Venegas Rivera, 25, also known as "El Catracho," pleaded guilty on August 1, 2011, to federal charges concerning the murder of Special Agent Zapata and attempted murder of Special Agent Avila. Jose Ismael Nava Villagran, 30, also known as "El Cacho," pleaded guilty on January 4, 2012, also to federal charges concerning the murder and attempted murder of the ICE agents. Francisco Carbajal Flores, 38, also known as "El Dalmata," pleaded guilty on January 10, 2012, to conspiracy to conduct the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity and to being an accessory after the fact to the murder and attempted murder of the ICE agents. The convicted Zetas are facing life in prison. No sentencing date has been scheduled for the convicted Zetas.
On February 15, 2011, Espinosa along with Rivera, Villagran and 12 others attempted in a roadblock to intercept an armored diplomatic vehicle on highway 57 in San Luis Potosi, Mexico driven by ICE Agent Zapata and its passenger Agent Avila. The two ICE agents were working for the ICE Attaché Office in Mexico City. They were driving from San Luis Potosi after they picked up some equipment and were returning to their home office in Mexico City when they were attacked in an ambushed.
Espinoza wanted to steal the vehicle from the occupants not knowing they were ICE agents. They chased the vehicle, rammed it and fired multiple shots at the SUV. When the SUV stopped, the door locks of the SUV malfunctioned and automatically opened after Zapata put the gear on park allowing the Zetas to get partial access into the vehicle critically wounding Zapata and injuring Avila. The agents identified themselves as ICE agents, but were able to escape the ambush and call for backup. The agents carried handguns according to Mexican media reports, but were outgunned by the high power rifles the Zetas were firing at them. The U.S. government hasn't confirmed, if the agents were actually armed. The Mexican government prohibited U.S. agents from carrying weapons inside Mexico.
Agent Zapata later died in a Mexican hospital and Agent Avila who was hit in the leg and arm was flowned to Mexico City for treatment.
Agent Zapata was working for the ICE Laredo, Texas office in the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Unit, including the Border Enforcement Security Task Force. Avila had been assigned to the El Paso ICE Office.
When Espinoza was later arrested by Mexican military police, he confessed that he was a known leader of the Zeta group, which operated in the San Luis Potosí area and that ICE Agents Zapata and Avila were mistaken as rival drug cartel gang members by driving an armored black SUV.