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 accused of bringing trucks full of cocaine from Mexico to the eastern United States and shipping millions of dollars in cash back to Mexico.
He was arrested in Mexico in 2010 and was among 13 people extradited to the US from Mexico in September 2015 to face charges. He pleaded guilty in January 2016 to charges of conspiring to import and distribute cocaine, and conspiring to launder money.
Valdez was born in Laredo, Texas, on the Mexican border. His father was a nightclub and bar owner, and they lived in a middle-class subdivision populated by border patrol agents, police officers and firefighters.
He became a street dealer as a teen when he was still a linebacker on the football team at Laredo United high school, and then climbed the ranks to become a high-ranking member of the Beltran Leyva gang during the era when the gang's leaders were associated with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and the Sinaloa Cartel, prosecutors have said.
He lived a flashy lifestyle, dressing in nice suits and going to clubs, and owning homes in the most expensive parts of Mexico City. But his luxurious life was threatened after Mexican marines killed its leader, Arturo Beltran Leyva, during a gun battle in Cuernavaca in December 2009.
Valdez and Beltran Leyva's brother, Hector, began a bloody fight for control that left dismembered and decapitated bodies in the streets and often hanging from bridges in Cuernavaca and Acapulco, along with threatening messages.
An elite US-trained Mexican federal police squad acting on tips arrested Valdez and four others at a woody vacation home outside Mexico City in August 2010. At the time Felipe Calderon, Mexico's president, called Valdez "one of the most-wanted criminals in Mexico and abroad".