Two Mexican drug cartel members were sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a federal agent and the attempted murder of another, the Justice Department announced Monday.
Mexico extradited Jose Sota, 36, and Jesus Piña, 29, to the U.S. for ambushing two ICE agents near Mexico City in February 2011. The pair murdered special agent Jaime Zapata, 32, and wounded Victor Avila, 38, after firing at least 90 rounds from AK-47s and AR-15s into the agents’ vehicle, the DOJ stated.
Sota and Piña were members of a hit squad for the Los Zetas gang tasked with stealing vehicles for use in cartel operations. The armored SUV that Zapata and Avila drove was a prime target.
“We have never forgotten what happened to these two American heroes in that ambush on a Mexican highway more than six years ago,” U.S. attorney Jessie Liu said in a statement. “The sentencings this week reflect our determination to protect U.S. officials abroad and bring to justice those who do them harm.”
The offenders, joined by five other cartel members, drove up alongside the agents’ armored Chevrolet SUV and opened fire with handguns and rifles. Zapata was killed almost immediately, but Avila was able to survive to testify against the men. (RELATED: Jeff Sessions Approves New Tools To Annihilate MS-13)
“The sentences handed down today should serve as a powerful message to drug cartels and other transnational criminal organizations that there is no escape from justice, and that we will not rest until they have been held accountable for their crimes to the fullest extent of the law,” said ICE Acting Director Homan.
The five others who committed the crime alongside Sota and Piña have been convicted but await sentencing.
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