Cartel Leader Tied to El Chapo Gets Nearly 50 Years in Prison

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An American-born man accused of being one of Mexico’s most influential and violent drug lords was sentenced on Monday to almost 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to cocaine and money laundering charges, federal prosecutors said.

The man, Edgar Valdez Villarreal — whose doll-like looks earned him the moniker La Barbie — was also ordered in federal court in Atlanta to forfeit $192 million. Prosecutors say he moved thousands of pounds of cocaine from Mexico, Colombia and other countries into cities across the United States during his long drug trafficking career.

Over a span of two decades, Mr. Valdez, 44, rose into the leadership ranks of the Mexico-based Sinaloa and Beltrán Leyva drug cartels and in so doing became allied with the infamous drug lord Joaquin Guzmán Loera — known as El Chapo — the Justice Department said in a statement. (Mr. Guzmán is now himself in jail awaiting trial in Brooklyn.)

Mr. Valdez’s battle to control the Beltrán Leyva gang led to bloodshed, including the discovery of four decapitated bodies in and near Cuernavaca, Mexico, in 2010. Five years before, law enforcement officials linked Mr. Valdez to a video that appeared to show the interrogation of four battered men who admitted to being hired killers for another cartel; the video ended by showing one of the men shot in the head.

“Valdez Villareal imported tons of cocaine into the U.S. while ruthlessly working his way up the ranks of one of Mexico’s most powerful cartels, leaving in his wake countless lives destroyed by drugs and violence,” United States Attorney Byung J. Pak said. “He will now go to federal prison for nearly the rest of his life.”

Prosecutors said Mr. Valdez began his drug trafficking career around 2000 as a marijuana distributor in Laredo, Tex., and quickly developed cocaine customers in New Orleans, Memphis and elsewhere.

By 2004, Mr. Valdez and his partners had developed a formalized and intricate distribution system that involved exporting cocaine from Mexico to customers in the United States in loads of up to 300 kilograms twice per week, prosecutors said. Along the way Mr. Valdez coordinated shipments using speedboats, airplanes and tractor-trailers, paid bribes to local law enforcement officials and coordinated a war against his cartel’s rivals, they said.

He was captured by the authorities in 2010 and was among 13 people extradited to the United States from Mexico in September 2015. Mr. Valdez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import cocaine, conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to launder money in January 2016.

For his crimes, Judge William S. Duffey Jr. of United States District Court sentenced Mr. Valdez to 49 years and one month in prison, which is to be followed by 10 years of supervised release, the Justice Department said.

Buddy Parker, a lawyer for Mr. Valdez, said Monday that he had asked Judge Duffey to give his client 30 years.

“I would have liked for it to have been lower, but certainly it’s not my place to criticize the court for what I believe to have been a thorough analysis,” Mr. Parker said of the sentence.

Mr. Valdez told the judge he accepted responsibility for his wrongdoing and apologized to his family, Mr. Parker said. “I’m not a bad person,” Mr. Valdez told Judge Duffey. “I am a good person who has made bad decisions.”

According to The Associated Press, Judge Duffey replied, “You haven’t earned the right to live in an American community.”

By: Matt Stevens, New York Times

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