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Cartel leader 'La Barbie' gets nearly 50 years

June 12, 2018

Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a Texan whose blood-soaked rise to power saw him make it to the top ranks of one of Mexico's most vicious drug cartels, has been sentenced to spend the rest of his life in a US prison.

Edgar Valdez Villareal, drug cartel leader La Barbie
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Guzman

Mexican cartel leader Edgar Valdez Villarreal, widely known as "La Barbie," was sentenced by an Atlanta court to 49 years and one month in prison and forced to forfeit his $192 million (€163 million) fortune.

Valdez, 44, was found guilty of organizing and overseeing numerous truck shipments of cocaine from Mexico to the eastern United States, while shipping millions of dollars back to Mexico.

He was arrested on the outskirts of Mexico City in 2010 before being extradited to the US in September 2015. At the time of his arrest, Mexico's then-President Felipe Calderon described Valdez as "one of the most-wanted criminals in Mexico and abroad."

In January 2016 he pleaded to guilty charges including conspiring to import and distribute cocaine in the US, as well as conspiring to launder money.

Mexico's drug wars are coming to America

Family begs for leniency

The Atlanta courtroom was largely packed with Valdez's immediate and extended family, including his seven siblings, parents, nieces and nephews.

His sister, Carla Valdez, who works as a prosecutor in Texas, told US Judge William Duffey that she and her siblings were raised by hardworking parents who taught them strong values. She acknowledged that her brother had strayed but insisted he was still a good person.

Duffey said he struggled to understand, asking "why are you a prosecutor and why is your brother a seriously evil criminal?"

Read more: Gang battle in Mexico as US' John Kelly visits

Defense attorney Buddy Parker stressed that his client had cooperated with US law enforcement agents, even before his 2010 arrest, to help catch other traffickers.

Duffey remained skeptical, saying that by providing information to US authorities, Valdez was effectively "structuring a situation where his competitors were being taken out by law enforcement."

In his last statement before the court, Valdez told the judge: "I'm not a bad person, I am a good person who has made bad decisions." The judge refused to be swayed, telling Valdez that his actions amounted to a betrayal of his family and his country.

Rising through the cartel ranks

Born in Laredo, Texas, on the Mexican border, Valdez began working as a street dealer as a teen, before climbing through the ranks of the Beltran Leyva gang at a time when the gang's leaders boasted ties with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and the Sinaloa Cartel.

Dubbed "La Barbie" for his light skin and blond hair, Valdez was known for his love of luxury and tendency to purchase houses in Mexico's City most exclusive neighborhoods, including one with a zoo that housed a lion.

Read more: Violence on the decline in Mexico's war on drugs

However, his flashy lifestyle came under threat in December 2009 when Mexican marines killed the gang's leader, Arturo Beltran Leyva. What followed was a bloody fight for control between Valdez and Arturo's brother, Hector, which left dismembered and decapitated bodies lying in the streets of Cuernavaca and Acapulco.

Valdez was arrested less than year later by elite US-trained Mexican federal police.

Despite being sentenced, prosecutors in the US' case against "El Chapo," which is due to begin in September, are still considering Valdez as a potential witness.

dm/cmk (AP, dpa)

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