updated 6/7/2011 4:33:53 PM ET 2011-06-07T20:33:53

A Mexican man linked to two of the largest marijuana seizures in U.S. history pleaded guilty to drug charges Tuesday in federal court.

Prosecutors allege Daniel Navarro oversaw the transport of 49 tons of marijuana through two sophisticated cross-border underground tunnels into California.

The tunnels and drug loads were discovered Nov. 2 and Nov. 25.

Navarro pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana. He faces 10 years to life in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 19.

U.S. investigators suspect both tunnels were overseen by Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, whose leader, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, is that country's most-wanted drug lord. They were lined with rail tracks, ventilation and lighting.

Story: 'More will die': Mexico drug wars claim U.S. lives

A truck driver, Carlos Cunningham, 28, was sentenced in April to nearly 22 years in prison for hauling about 10 tons of marijuana through one of the tunnels. Another driver, Jose Guadalupe Hernandez, pleaded guilty in April for conspiring to distribute nearly 14 tons of marijuana in connection with the second tunnel discovered in November. He is scheduled to be sentenced in June.

U.S. officials have found more than 125 underground tunnels along the border built by Mexican drug cartels to elude detection since the early 1990s. Of those, 75 have been found in the past four years. Many were discovered before they were completed. The majority were found along the California and Arizona borders with Mexico.

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Explainer: Mexico's drug cartel bosses

  • The nefarious drug lords of Mexico's underworld have emerged as the world's most wanted criminals.

    They're savage, rich and ingenious in their ability to move massive shipments of narcotics into the United States and worldwide. They manage trafficking organizations like CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and one kingpin was even listed as No. 41 on the Forbes list of the 500 most powerful people in the world.

    The following are key players in Mexico's drug wars.

    (Source: Msnbc.com research, The Associated Press and Reuters)

  • Shorty

    Image: Joaquin Guzman
    Damian Dovarganes  /  AP FILE
    Joaquín Guzmán.

    Name: Joaquín Guzmán Loera
    Nickname: El Chapo (Shorty)
    Cartel: Sinaloa
    Born: April, 4, 1957
    Bounty: $5 million (U.S.), $2 million (Mexico)
    Background: The billionaire drug lord is Mexico's most wanted criminal on both sides of the border. The 5-foot-6-inch Guzmán is known for his use of sophisticated tunnels to smuggle cocaine from Mexico into the United States in the early 1990s. He escaped a maximum-security prison in a laundry cart in 2001. Since, he's been blamed for igniting bloody turf wars throughout Mexico. In November 2010, Guzmán was listed at 60th among the 68 most powerful people in the world by Forbes Magazine.
    Personal affairs: Guzmán married an 18-year-old beauty queen in 2007. A year later, his  22-year-old son, Edgar, died in a shootout with rivals. The grieving father ordered 50,000 red roses for the burial.

  • Sidekick

    Telemundo
    Ismael Zambada García

    Name: Ismael Zambada García
    Nickname: El Mayo
    Cartel: Sinaloa
    Born: Jan. 1, 1948
    Bounty: $5 million (U.S.), $2 million (Mexico)
    Background: Zambada, a former furniture worker and farmer, is Joaquín Guzmán's partner and like his narco buddy, a fugitive from the law in Mexico and the United States. He's notorious for having plastic surgery and disguising himself as he travels throughout Mexico. Of course, he lives under a false identity. Zambada has been involved in drug trafficking for more than 30 years. There's no sign of his retiring.
    All in the family: Trafficking is deeply embedded in the family DNA. His wife, Rosario Niebla Cardoza, three sons and four daughters help dad with extensive narcotics distribution and money laundering. Both his brother and son have been arrested in Mexico.

  • Executioner

    Telemundo
    Heriberto Lazcano

    Name: Heriberto Lazcano
    Nickname: The Executioner, El Lazca, El Verdugo, Z-3
    Cartel: Los Zetas
    Born: Dec. 25, 1974
    Bounty: $5 million (U.S.), $2 million (Mexico)
    Background: Lazcano deserted the Mexican army's special forces in the late 1990s to join the enforcers for the Zetas cartel, which takes its name from a police radio code in which "Z" means "commander." He is now considered its leader. The gang's break with a former ally, the Gulf cartel, ramped up violence in 2010 in parts of Mexico, where the Zetas have been blamed for slaughtering police officers, politicians, scores of migrants and the family of a fallen marine in retaliation for his involvement in bringing down a drug lord. Lazcano and his extremely loyal bodyguards are constantly on the move to avoid capture.
    Catholic ties: The 36-year-old drug lord was born in a poor farming town near Tezontle, a town now populated with opulent homes and a new Catholic church in honor of Pope John Paul II, which Lazcano reportedly funded. The Archdiocese of Mexico says it was aware and has since distanced itself from the chapel.

  • Brother

    Joe Raedle  /  Getty Images
    Vicente Carrillo-Fuentes

    Name: Vicente Carrillo Fuentes
    Nickname: Viceroy
    Cartel: Juarez
    Born: Oct. 16, 1962
    Bounty:$5 million (U.S.), $2 million (Mexico)
    Background: Fuentes inherited the Juarez cartel from his brother, Amando Carrillo Fuentes, who was known as the "Lord of the Skies" because of his private fleet of Boeing 727 jets used to traffic cocaine. After his brother's death during plastic surgery, Vicente ramped up the violence by creating a group of bloodthirsty killers, including corrupt police officers, known as La Linea. They're known to decapitate rivals, especially members of the Sinaloa cartel, and dump their mutilated corpses in public to instill fear. This cartel, backed by the Zetas, works closely with a U.S. prison gang, the Barrio Azteca, to carry out murders. Federal authorities blame the Juarez cartel for hundreds of deaths and disappearances, since the cartel took over the trafficking corridor in 1993, The El Paso Times reported.
    Mystery man: Little is known of Fuentes, expect he is the third of six brothers and has six sisters.

  • Ex-cop

    Telemundo
    Jorge Eduardo Costilla

    Name: Jorge Eduardo Costilla
    Nickname: El Coss
    Cartel: Gulf
    Born: Aug. 1, 1971
    Bounty: $5 million (U.S.), $2 million (Mexico)
    Background: A former Matamoros police officer, Costilla heads a cartel that allegedly grew out of bootleggers during the American Prohibition. He has been charged in the U.S. with 12 counts of drug trafficking and money laundering and is also wanted for assaulting federal officers with Kalashnikov rifles. He used to work closely with the Zetas cartel but now is at the forefront of a war to annihilate them.

  • Meth man

    Name: Nazario Moreno González
    Nickname: El Mas Loco, El Chayo
    Cartel: La Familia Michoacana
    Born: March 8, 1970, in Guanajuatillo, Michoacan
    Bounty: $5 million (U.S.), $2 million (Mexico)
    Background: González specializes in trafficking crystal methamphetamine. He was raised a Catholic but converted to Jehovah's Witnesses. He requires each of his gangsters to carry his own Bible, which is compulsory reading. He invokes principles of divine justice when setting out to defeat his enemies and is a fan of the "Godfather" trilogy and the film "Braveheart."

  • Strongman

    Name: Héctor Beltrán Leyva
    Nickname: El Ingeniero, El H
    Cartel: Beltrán Leyva Cartel
    Born: Feb. 15, 1965
    Bounty: $5 million (U.S.), $2 million (Mexico)
    Background: He and his five brothers trafficked tons of marijuana, cocaine and heroine across the border. The brothers broke ties with the Sinaloa network in 2008 after brother Arturo Beltrán Leyva was arrested by Mexican special forces. The brothers blamed faction boss Joaquín Guzmán for the capture. Arturo was gunned down a year later by Mexican marines.

    In 2004, officials in New York and the District of Colombia indicted Beltrán Leyva on trafficking charges.

Interactive: Mexico's drug-trafficking landscape

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