MCALLEN, Texas (Reuters) - A top figure with a Mexican drug cartel was sentenced to seven years in a U.S. prison on Thursday after pleading guilty to immigration and weapons charges.
As part of a plea deal, Jose Luis Zuniga Hernandez, 44, admitted he was a leader of Mexico’s brutal Gulf Cartel, a drug gang that authorities say has smuggled countless tons of narcotics into the United States.
U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested Zuniga Hernandez, known as “El Wicho,” in October 2011 near Brownsville, Texas, where he was sentenced on Thursday by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen.
Prosecutors said Zuniga Hernandez was in charge of the cartel’s operations in Rio Bravo and Matamoros — two Mexican border towns key to the drug trade.
In court documents, prosecutors said Zuniga Hernandez paid $57,000 for a diamond, gold and ruby-encrusted .38-caliber handgun. After he was arrested, he attempted to bribe one of the agents with the jewel-encrusted gun, according to court records.
The agent declined the offer.
In addition to the prison term, Judge Hanen ordered Zuniga Hernandez to pay a $10,000 fine.
The Gulf Cartel has battled its former paramilitary arm, known as Los Zetas, in northeast Mexico since they split in early 2010.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has vowed to curb the drug violence that raged under his predecessor, Felipe Calderon, who launched an offensive against drug cartels when he took office in late 2006.
Last month, the Mexican government estimated that some 70,000 people had died as a result of the drug war during Calderon’s years in power.
Editing by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Steve Orlofsky