I-Team

Judge's ruling raises security concerns at MCC

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A U.S. judge Wednesday ordered officials of the federal lockup in Chicago to allow outdoor exercise for one of the world's major druglords.

In this Intelligence Report: This decision has authorities at the MCC concerned about an escape or an assassination.

In the middle of downtown Chicago, the Metropolitan Correctional Center houses some of the most dangerous criminals--most awaiting or on trial -- including Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla, who federal prison officials say would be a sniper target if they let him exercise on the facility's rooftop along with other inmates. But that is precisely what a district court judge has ordered.

Zambada-Niebla was taken into custody a year and a half ago and extradited from Mexico to Chicago. He is charged with trafficking more than a billion dollars in cocaine and heroin during a several-year period. Authorities say he is the logistics chief and underboss of Chicago's most ruthless drug gang: The Sinoloa Cartel.

Since being jailed at the MCC in Chicago's South Loop, Zambada-Niebla has been held in solitary confinement in a special security area for high-risk prisoners.

After 18 months in isolation, attorneys for the 35-year-old kingpin Wednesday won a motion to allow him exercise time on the prison's rooftop that includes a basketball court.

District Judge Ruben Castillo ruled that the inmate hasn't even been tried and has done nothing to deserve solitary confinement.

But Catherine Linaweaver, the new warden at the MCC, maintains allowing one of the world's major druglords outside presents tremendous security risks.

Linaweaver In an affidavit, Linaweaver states that he would be an "easy target...attacks could be staged" from nearby high-rises or his compadres could effectuate an escape. The threat, she claims, would risk the lives of staff, public and Zambada himself.

If Zambada-Niebla were allowed out, the warden says, specially trained staff would have to escort him to the rooftop, requiring overtime and special security facilities just for him, costing thousands of dollars.

It is unclear when the inmate will make his first appearance on the rooftop. No one was seen there all day Wednesday, although it isn't known whether that was a result of federal prison officials trying to figure out what to do next.

The Sinoloa Cartel has unlimited resources, according to federal agents, and has succeeded in both escapes and assassinations in the past.

It is no secret that the rooftop of the MCC is visible from nearby buildings and even some parking garages. For years, a popular pastime for prisoners is to have their wives or girlfriends go to the top of a close-by parking garage during inmate exercise time and put on a personal strip tease.

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