AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini, File

Atlanta Federal Judge Gives Cartel Leader Nearly 50 Years in Federal Prison

Associated Press/Kate Brumback

June 11, 2018 - 5:51 pm

ATLANTA (AP) — A Texas-born man who prosecutors say rose to the top ranks of a Mexican drug cartel using ruthless violence to defeat rivals and secure control of drug trafficking routes was sentenced Monday by a federal judge in Atlanta to serve nearly five decades in prison.

Edgar Valdez Villarreal, known as “La Barbie” because of his light eyes and complexion, was sentenced to serve 49 years and one month and was also ordered to forfeit $192 million, which prosecutors say is a conservative estimate of the value of the cocaine Valdez was responsible for importing into the United States. Valdez, 44, was born and raised in the border town of Laredo, Texas, and began dealing marijuana when he was still a linebacker on the football team, prosecutors said. He climbed the ranks of the Beltran Leyva cartel at a time when the gang’s leaders were associated with Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and the Sinaloa Cartel, they said. He enjoyed a flashy lifestyle and cultivated an image in the media to impress people and intimidate his rivals, prosecutor Elizabeth Hathaway said in court. He wore nice suits and owned luxury homes, including a ranch with a zoo that housed a lion.

At his sentencing hearing, one of his six sisters and his brother pleaded with the judge for leniency. His parents, other siblings and nieces and nephews, packed the courtroom.

Mexican federal police arrested Valdez and four others at a woody vacation home outside Mexico City in August 2010. At the time, then-Mexican President Felipe Calderon called Valdez “one of the most-wanted criminals in Mexico and abroad.”

He was among 13 people extradited to the U.S. from Mexico in September 2015. He pleaded guilty in January 2016 to charges of conspiring to import and distribute cocaine and conspiring to launder money.