'La Barbie' drug lord Edgar Valdez Villarreal jailed for 50 years

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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 almost five decades in prison.

Born in Laredo, Texas, La Barbie started small by dealing drugs in his teens while attending Laredo United High School.

At one point, Valdez-Villareal was El Chapo's top lieutenant, prosecutors said.

However, his flashy lifestyle came under threat in December 2009 when Mexican marines killed the gang's leader, Arturo Beltran Leyva. Twice a week, he'd run 300 kilograms (661 pounds) to his customers and ferry the money back across the Mexican border.

The cartel's involvement helped Valdez-Villareal set up cocaine shipments to go through South America "using speed boats and airplanes, while also paying bribes to local law enforcement officials", said the Department of Justice.

The DOJ said he became a high-ranking enforcer for the cartel and coordinated war against the cartel's rivals.

Federal police stand guard by Texas-born Edgar Valdez Villarreal, alias "La Barbie", eighth from left, and his alleged collaborators during their presentation to the press in Mexico City, Tuesday Aug. 31, 2010.

He answered, "Yes, your honor", to a judge's questions before pleading guilty to the three charges, which commanded a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Valdez, 44, was a member of the Beltran Levya drug cartel. Valdez received credit for the eight years he had already spent in prison, including the time behind bars in Mexico.

"He will now go to federal prison for almost the rest of life".

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

From humble beginnings, Valdez ultimately became 'one of the most wanted criminals in Mexico'. Authorities are offering a reward of up to $2 million for information leading to Villarreal's capture.

After his arrest, the Mexican attorney general's office published a video of his confession, in which he said he managed lucrative drug routes from Panama to the United States. He, too, was extradited to the Untied States and is scheduled to face a judge and jury later this year.

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