posttrib
CHARMING 
Weather Updates

High-ranking Latin King gets 20 years for role in murders

Updated: June 4, 2013 6:33AM



A Chicago man who admitted he was a high-ranking leader in the Latin Kings street gang who played a role in the murder of two men in 2007 in Griffith will serve 20 years in prison.

The sentence was well below the life in prison that federal guidelines recommended, but Joseph Cooley, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, supported the sentence by arguing during a hearing Thursday afternoon at the U.S. District Court in Hammond that Jose Zambrano, 33, provided significant help to the government.

For instance, he said, Zambrano helped expand the racketeering case from the original six defendants, which included him, to more than 20 defendants, including two corrupt Chicago police officers. His cooperation also helped several other high-ranking leaders, including Highland resident Alexander Vargas, to eventually plead guilty. All but two of the defendants have pleaded guilty, and Zambrano testified at the trial of another co-defendant.

Cooley did not dismiss Zambrano’s actions, noting that in similar cases where the government seeks so much less time than the guidelines, he often asks for even less time served. However, Cooley said, he felt 20 years was sufficient considering the role that Zambrano played in the gang, which was accused of using violence and murder in its drug dealing activities during the past two decades.

“Some... may say 20 years is a gift,” Cooley said.

He noted that the government originally did not have enough evidence to charge Zambrano in connection with the February 2007 Griffith homicides of rival gang leaders James Walsh and Gonzalo Diaz. Because of that, the most prison time he faced was 20 years. He agreed to waive that limit, however, to cooperate with the government, Cooley said.

Vargas and other co-defendants have testified that Vargas ordered the murders of Walsh and Diaz in retaliation for the shooting death of Vargas’ brother.

Zambrano apologized to the court and his family for his actions, saying he wished he had been a better role model for his children.

“There is no explanation for it,” he said.

Zambrano’s attorney, Michael Bosch, asked that his sentence serve just 15 years, arguing that he lived a rough childhood that included being kicked out on his own by his grandparents when he was just 12. The Latin Kings took him in soon afterward.

“He had to be tough, or he wouldn’t be here today,” Bosch said.

U.S. District Judge Rudy Lozano said he was concerned about giving even just a 20 year sentence to Zambrano, pointing to his the hundreds of pounds of drugs he helped distribute and the murders he was involved in.

“If there’s a case that deserves sentencing, yours does,” Lozano said.

However, the judge granted the request for 20 years after saying he wanted to encourage other similar defendants to help cooperate with the government.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.