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Regional & National

Mexican cartel drug dealer sentenced 25 years in Tennessee case

March 2nd, 2010 12:00 am by Sheila Burke, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- A federal judge on Monday sentenced a drug dealer for a powerful Mexican cartel to 25 years in prison for soliciting the murder of a witness in a Tennessee drug case.

Salvador Guzman apologized to U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger for "all the bad things I've done." Guzman pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine and two counts of soliciting the murder of a witness.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sunny A.M. Koshy told Trauger that 25 years seemed like a light sentence for such serious crimes, but it was in exchange for getting Guzman's cooperation in other drug cases.

Guzman, 33, was a member of the powerful Sinaloa cartel in Mexico.

The cartel, named for the Mexican state of Sinaloa, has used hit men to carry out massacres in Mexico, and is known for its use of sophisticated tunnels to smuggle drugs from Mexico into the United States.

Guzman ran the cartel's drug operations in Tennessee and Ohio. He lived in Akron, Ohio, and would hide cocaine in the drive shafts of vehicles bound for Nashville and other places.

He got busted for drugs in Tennessee in November 2007 after a Nashville dealer agreed to work as an informant to help federal agents. While in jail awaiting trial, Guzman asked another inmate to kill the informant.

Guzman told the would-be hit man that he'd arrange for him to bail out of jail so he could do the job. He promised that the cartel would pay either a kilogram of cocaine or $20,000 for the hit. And he also said he'd arrange for him to meet one of his bosses at the cartel so he could get set up as a drug dealer with a steady supply of cocaine.

The would-be hit man, who was secretly working as an informant for federal authorities, did not kill the witness, but lied to Guzman and said he was dead.

The informant then went to Mexico to collect from the cartel.

Guzman's cartel boss, identified in court documents as "Luis," refused to meet with the informant without proof that the dealer was dead. Court documents said Luis offered to pay a kilogram in cocaine with proof of the murder.

The informant went back to Guzman and told him that his cousin killed the wrong person and the witness was still alive.

Guzman asked him again to kill the witness, telling him "I'll take care of you, man."

Guzman's case is unusual because as violent as the cartels are in Mexico, they tend to stay out of killings in the U.S, because they're afraid of American law enforcement, one expert on the cartels said.

It's too early to tell whether this was a rare emboldened act on the part of the cartel, or a sign of more bloodshed to come to the U.S., said Howard Campbell, a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso and author of "Drug War Zone."

"The potential for more violence is certainly there because of how bad things are in Mexico and how extensively the cartels have already infiltrated American society."

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