Prosecutors say Marciano Millan Vasquez helped smuggle crates of weapons into Mexico to fuel the Zetas' bloody turf war in Piedras Negras.
As the trial of Marciano Millan Vasquez played out in a San Antonio federal courtroom for the past two weeks, prosecutors several times tried to underscore the gravity of the drug trafficking conspiracy they say Millan Vasquez was a part of — first as a sicario
, or hitman, then as a regional boss for the ruthless Zetas cartel in Piedras Negras, a lucrative smuggling route across from the border town of Eagle Pass.
That meant in order to convince jurors to convict Millan Vasquez on the wide range of charges against him, prosecutors had a big, complicated puzzle to build. Nearly a dozen government witnesses, many of them former traffickers themselves who now face hefty prison terms, testified to how drug bosses recruited Eagle Pass high schoolers by the dozens to easily and cheaply traffic dope north and guns south across the border. Some explained how widespread corruption and bribes to police and politicians allowed the Zetas to operate with impunity within the Mexican border state of Coahuila. Those witnesses put Millan Vasquez, also known as "Chano", at the top of the food chain, someone in cartel leadership who, for instance, orchestrated drugs and weapons smuggling remotely via burner phone.
But sometimes "Chano" was intimately involved in the dirty work that comes with building a narco state. One former trafficker testified that he saw Millan Vasquez dismember a 6-year-old girl alive in front of her mother and father before tossing the remains into a barrel of fire.
It took jurors just three hours on Tuesday to find Millan Vasquez guilty on all counts, including for his involvement in 29 killings in northern Mexico that prosecutors have tied to a wave of murders and disappearances that paralyzed Coahuila in recent years.
In court, witnesses testified to how the Zetas bought, killed and intimidated their way into power in Coahuila. One former top financial advisor to the cartel who has since fled to the United States testified of bribes the gang paid out to municipal and state officials, who in turn allowed cartel members to buy their way out of criminal charges and even seize control of the local prison, transforming it into a hub for the Zetas’ operations out of Piedras Negras. The same former cartel advisor also claimed the corruption reached the top levels of state government, testifying that he twice delivered bribe money to the personal aid of former Coahuila governor Humberto Moreira. (The feds are investigating whether Moriera and his former aid laundered millions in bribe money in the San Antonio area.)
Summing up the gang's organizational structure, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Galdo told jurors to consider the Zetas a "drug army" that brought a reign of terror to Coahuila, turning much of it into what he called "a drug state."
Prosecutors say "Chano" rose in the Zetas ranks in Piedras Negras just as the organization's blood thirst reached its apex. One witness recalled seeing Millan Vasquez and other Zetas sicarios
covered in blood after killing a phone company worker who’d been accused of listening in on cartel communications. Another former drug trafficker told jurors that he saw more than a dozen people murdered and dismembered with an ax, either at Millan Vasquez's own hands or on his orders — including the butchering of 6-year-old girl and four boys who hawked newspapers on street corners in Piedras Negras.
Millan Vasquez, who was arrested at his west side San Antonio home last year, now faces sentencing in October. Most of the counts against him carry sentences of up to life in prison.