Pablo Vega Cuevas.

Pablo Vega Cuevas.

Sun-Times file

Mexican cartel crew leader from Aurora tried but couldn’t get out. Now, Pablo Vega Cuevas is hoping for leniency for helping feds.

He’s seeking a reduced sentence of 15 years for his role in Guerreros Unidos. In 2014, he asked the drug cartel to let him leave, but his bosses told him to keep unloading heroin hidden on buses, prosecutors say.

Pablo Vega Cuevas was at the center of a Mexico-to-Chicago heroin-trafficking operation and wanted out.

Vega, whose crew unloaded heroin from passenger buses in warehouses in Aurora and Batavia, was part of the Guerreros Unidos Mexican drug cartel, and he sensed that federal authorities were watching.

He was right. They were conducting surveillance on the warehouses and tapping the cartel’s BlackBerry devices.

Vega was arrested in late 2014. Eventually, he agreed to help prosecutors and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Chicago with their case against the cartel that’s been blamed for the 2014 disappearance and presumed massacre of 43 college students in Iguala in the Mexican state of Guerrero.

Now, in a court filing Monday, prosecutors for the first time have confirmed that Vega has been cooperating with them.


Sun-Times page 1 Aug. 6, 2023, with a story of the Chicago connections of the Guerreros Unidos Mexican drug cartel.

Click here for more on Pablo Vega Cuevas and the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel.

They also revealed that Vega, who has pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges but hasn’t yet been sentenced, is hoping that prosecutors recommend a 15-year prison term when his case is wrapped up. That’s half of the minimum 30-year prison term called for in federal sentencing guidelines. The maximum is life.

Sources say that, for more than a year, Vega’s crew unloaded about 2,000 kilograms of heroin hidden in passenger buses. According to prosecutors, the drugs were distributed in Chicago and across the country, and the proceeds were sent back to Mexico on the same buses.

For years, Vega’s case has been shrouded in unusual secrecy. His 2021 plea agreement has been kept under seal. And discussions about his case in court have largely been held out of earshot of anyone in the courtroom. The judge even huddled privately with attorneys when a Chicago Sun-Times reporter entered an otherwise-empty courtroom.

The new details about Vega are contained in a memo prosecutors filed in the case of another reputed Guerreros Unidos member, Adan Casarrubias Salgado, known as El Tomate — the Tomato.

Adan Casarrubias Salgado. The Mexican government blacked out his eyes in the photo.

Adan Casarrubias Salgado. The Mexican government blacked out his eyes in the photo.

Mexico attorney general’s office

The memo lays out the evidence prosecutors expect to present against Casarrubias. It refers to Vega as “Individual A,” but the details in the filing make his identity clear.

The memo says he’s willing to testify against Casarrubias.

Vega and his brother Marco Vega Cuevas were born in Mexico and grew up in Aurora.

In the court filing, prosecutors said Vega lost a job in 2012 and started working for his brother, who had become a leader in the cartel in Mexico.

Vega previously held jobs in factories in the west suburbs, according to Kane County court records.

Marco Vega drowned in Mexico in March 2014. According to prosecutors, Pablo Vega traveled to Mexico for his brother’s memorial service and met with the cartel’s boss, Mario Casarrubias Salgado, nicknamed El Sapo Guapo, the Handsome Toad, who was Adan Casarrubias’ brother.

Mario Casarrubias used to live in Chicago and had a job delivering pizzas. In Mexico, he owned a passenger bus line — originally called Northern Star, then renamed Monarca and Volcano — that prosecutors say transported heroin from Mexico to Chicago in hidden compartments.

After his brother died, Vega started getting orders from The Handsome Toad, prosecutors say, being paid $3,000 for each drug-laden bus his crew unloaded in the Chicago area.

In April 2014, Mexican authorities arrested Mario Casarrubias, calling him “one of the main drug transporters to Chicago.”

His brothers Adan Casarrubias and Angel Casarrubias then took control of the cartel, according to prosecutors.

Adan Casarrubias also had lived in Chicago and delivered pizzas for a restaurant in Belmont Cragin on the Northwest Side.

Vega met with his new bosses and told them he “did not want to continue working in the drug-trafficking business,” prosecutors wrote.

Vega told the Casarrubias brothers he suspected the cartel’s warehouses in the Chicago area were under law enforcement surveillance.

The Casarrubias brothers responded that Vega could stop working for the cartel once he took in three loads of narcotics in the Chicago area, according to prosecutors’ memo, which said Vega’s crew continued unloading buses.

In a BlackBerry message on June 2, 2014, Adan Casarrubias told Vega, “Buddy, I’m going to give you a number so you can pick up some money,” according to prosecutors, who said the amount was $600,000.

Four days later, Casarrubias told Vega in another intercepted BlackBerry conversation to give two customers a total of 26 kilograms of heroin, according to prosecutors.

Vega was arrested in December 2014 in Oklahoma.

Adan Casarrubias, who was charged with drug conspiracy and money-laundering in 2019 and extradited from Mexico to Chicago last year, is in federal custody awaiting trial. His brother Mario Casarrubias died in prison in Mexico.

Contributing: Jon Seidel, Oscar Lopez

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