Ismael Zambada García (born 1 January 1948), also known as El Mayo Zambada, is a Mexican drug lord who serves as the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. Before assuming leadership of the entire cartel, he served as the logistical coordinator for the Zambada-García faction of the Sinaloa Cartel which has assisted in the exporting of cocaine and heroin into Chicago and other U.S. cities by train, ship, jet and submarine.
A former farmer with extensive agricultural and botanical knowledge, Zambada began his criminal career by smuggling a few kilograms of drugs at the time, then increased his gang's production of heroin and marijuana while consolidating his position as a trafficker of Colombian cocaine. When drug lord Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo was arrested in 1989, his old organization broke up into two factions: the Tijuana Cartel led by his nephews, the Arellano Félix brothers, and the Sinaloa Cartel, run by former lieutenants Héctor Luis Palma Salazar, Adrián Gómez González, Ismael Zambada García, Ignacio Coronel Villarreal, and Joaquín Guzmán Loera (El Chapo). The Sinaloa Cartel drug lords were active in the states of Sinaloa, Durango, Chihuahua, Sonora, Nuevo León, and Michoacán.
In 2006 the administration of President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against Mexico’s drug trafficking networks. The Arellano Felix Organization (Tijuana Cartel), the largest and most sophisticated of the Mexican cartels at the time, received the brunt of the blows. Taking advantage of the pressure being placed on the Tijuana Cartel, other drug bosses, most notably Ismael Zambada and Joaquín Guzmán, began to encroach on strongholds in northwestern Mexico, leading to full-scale war.
Zambada has historically worked closely with the Juárez Cartel and the Carrillo Fuentes family, while maintaining independent ties to Colombian cocaine suppliers. Zambada has been wanted by Mexico’s attorney general’s office since 1998, when it issued bounties totaling $2.8 million USD on him and five other leaders of the Juárez Cartel.
Zambada headed the Sinaloa Cartel in partnership with Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, until 2016 when El Chapo was captured. Zambada has now assumed full command of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Zambada is Mexico's most enduring and powerful drug lord. He has had plastic surgery and disguises himself to move throughout Mexico.
Zambada García's organization, the Sinaloa Cartel, receives multi-ton quantities of cocaine, mostly by sea from Colombian sources. After receipt of the cocaine, the Sinaloa cartel uses a variety of methods, including airplanes, trucks, cars, boats, and tunnels to transport the cocaine to the United States. Members of the cartel smuggle the cocaine to distribution cells in Arizona, California, Chicago, and New York City.
Zambada operates primarily in the States of Sinaloa and Durango, but exerts influence along a large portion of Mexico’s Pacific coast, as well as in Cancun, Quintana Roo, Sonora, Monterrey and Nuevo Leon.
Ismael Zambada has been featured on America's Most Wanted, and the FBI is offering up to US$5 million for information leading to his capture.
On 20 October 2008, some of his relatives were arrested in Mexico City on drug trafficking charges: Ismael's brother, Jesus "The King" Zambada, along with Ismael's son and nephew. His son, Ismael "El Mayito" Zambada Jr. is currently being sought for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance in the United States. His other son, Vicente Zambada Niebla, was arrested by the Mexican Army on 18 March 2009.
His wife Rosario Niebla Cardoza, brother Jesús, sons Vicente Zambada-Niebla (alias "el Vicentillo", arrested), Serafín Zambada-Ortiz (alias "el Sera", arrested), and Ismael Zambada-Imperial (alias "el Mayito gordo", arrested), as well as his four daughters, María Teresa, Midiam Patricia, Mónica del Rosario and Modesta play an active role on narcotics' distribution and money laundering. His son-in-law, Juan Gabriel González Ibarra, husband of Midiam Patricia, died after suffering an electric shock at his home in Culiacán on 18 June 2014.
Ismael Zambada relies on currency shipments to move drug proceeds across the United States–Mexico border.