A former Texas high school football player who authorities say rose to the top ranks of a Mexican drug cartel has been sentenced to serve almost 50 years in federal prison on drug and money laundering charges.
A 49-year federal prison term likely means the 44-year-old Valdez-Villareal will spend the rest of his life incarcerated. If he's alive at the end of his sentence, he will serve 10 years of probation, the Justice Department said.
Valdez was among 13 people extradited from Mexico to the United States in September 2015. "The highest levels of Mexican drug cartel should know that, like La Barbie, they will be held accountable for their crimes".
Villarreal, the son of a club owner, was a linebacker on the Loredo United high school football team in Loredo, Texas, where he was born.
At one point, Valdez-Villareal was El Chapo's top lieutenant, prosecutors said. But his luxurious life was threatened after Mexican marines killed its leader, Arturo Beltran Leyva, during a gun battle in Cuernavaca in December 2009. He and the cartel distributed 1,500 kilograms of cocaine in Atlanta within six months in 2005 according to the Department of Justice.
The DOJ said he became a high-ranking enforcer for the cartel and coordinated war against the cartel's rivals.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration used wiretaps, witness testimonies, seizures of cocaine and $4 million of drug proceeds to build a case against Valdez-Villareal.
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. When he stepped into an Atlanta federal courthouse in 2016, he wore a khaki prison outfit and smiled for the cameras.
Hathaway seized on that skepticism when asking the judge to impose a 55-year sentence.
He was slated to be sentenced in March 2016, according to officials at the time.
After years dealing drugs in the US, Valdez is reported to have moved to Mexico.
Defense attorney Buddy Parker stressed that his client had cooperated with USA law enforcement agents, even before his 2010 arrest, to help catch other traffickers. Authorities are offering a reward of up to $2 million for information leading to Villarreal's capture.
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