Zambrano, 51, is a "corona" of the Almighty Latin King Nation. As such, he was responsible for overseeing the illegal activities of all factions of the powerful street gang that counts about 10,000 members in Illinois. He has been in federal custody since 2009 and must serve at least 85% of his sentence.
U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle cited Zambrano's extensive criminal record of violent offenses and his lack whatsoever of any acceptance of responsibility or remorse for victims. Zambrano was known as "Big Tino," "Tino," "Old Man," and "Viejo."
Three co-defendants were also found guilty of running a criminal enterprise. The men trafficked drugs and protected their power, territory and revenue with murder, attempted murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, extortion, and violent acts.
"This investigation has held to hold the leaders of the Latin Kings like Zambrano responsible for their iron-fisted leadership of a criminal enterprise responsible for murders and attempted murders," said U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald in a statement. "As the CEO of this gang, Zambrano bears responsibility for its criminal acts."
Like many of his Mafia counterparts, Zambrano insulated himself and used his trusted lieutenants such as Fernando King and Vicente Garcia to carry out the violence.
"The result was an organization with its own rules, its own laws, and a savage code of violence," Fitzgerald added. "In many cases, the soldiers for whom defendant and the other leaders of the Latin Kings are responsible were simply boys who killed or were killed."
Three co-defendants were convicted with Zambrano at trial of RICO conspiracy and other crimes, including King and Garcia. Jose Guzman, a former "Nation Enforcer" in the 26th Street, or Little Village, faction, was sentenced last month to 35 years in prison. Garcia, the "Supreme Regional Inca," who was in charge of all Latin Kings in Illinois, awaits sentencing. Alphonso Chavez, the "Inca," or leader of the gang's 31st and Drake faction also awaits sentencing. King, who preceded Garcia as Supreme Regional Inca and pleaded guilty, was sentenced in October to 40 years in prison.
Evidence at trial included audio and video recordings of three beatings inflicted upon gang members for violating the rules and testimony documenting 20 shootings in the Little Village area, including at least one in which the victim died. Zambrano and Garcia were both convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon.
The four trial defendants were among 31 co-defendants indicted in September 2008 or charged in a superseding indictment in October 2009. Of those 31 defendants, 24 pleaded guilty, four were convicted at trial, and three remain fugitives. The Latin Kings originated in the west side Little Village community and have spread throughout Chicago, Illinois, and other states. Latin King leaders outside of Chicago acted with some autonomy but adhered to the rules and hierarchy of the Chicago gang.
Zambrano and several co-defendants also demanded and received payments from an organization illegally selling fraudulent immigration documents in Little Village by threatening and using violence against members of that organization if payments weren't made. Latin Kings leaders extorted "street tax" from non-gang members, referred to as "miqueros," who sold false identification documents.
The defendants kept victims in fear of the gang and its leaders by enforcing what it referred to as an "SOS"—shoot on sight or smash on sight—order against Latin King members who cooperated with law enforcement.
Multiple agencies were involved in the investigation, including the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Chicago Police Department, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Cook County Sheriff's Police Department. Involvement also came from the federal High Intensity Drug-Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force.
In late 2006, ATF agents led an investigation that resulted in federal drug trafficking and firearms charges against 38 Latin Kings members and associates. In 2008, the FBI led an investigation that resulted in state and federal charges against 40 Latin Kings members and associates, including a dozen of the Zambrano co-defendants. More than 80 Latin Kings members and associates have faced state or federal charges since 2006 and, of those, approximately 65 have been convicted federally, with only a few fugitives still facing federal charges.
Zambrano is the highest-ranking leader of the Latin Kings to be convicted since Gustavo "Gino" Colon, who also holds the title of "Corona," and is serving a life sentence imposed in 2000 for running a continuing criminal enterprise.