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American drug runner La Barbie sentenced to nearly 50 years

An American man who, according to prosecutors used ruthless violence to climb the ranks of a Mexican drug cartel, has been sentenced to nearly 50 years in prison by a federal judge in Atlanta.

Edgar Valdez Villarreal, known as La Barbie for his complexion and clear eyes, was sentenced to 49 years and one month in prison. He has also been given a fine of $192 million USD, which according to prosecutors, is a conservative estimate of the value of the cocaine that he introduced in the United States.

Valdez, 44, was born and raised in the town of Laredo, Texas bordering Mexico, and began selling marijuana while still playing linebacker on a football team, prosecutors said. Valdez Villarreal began to rise position in the Beltrán Leyva cartel when the heads of that organization were associated with Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán and the Pacific cartel, they added.

Valdez enjoyed a flamboyant lifestyle and through the media he forged an image aimed at impressing people and intimidating his rivals, prosecutor Elizabeth Hathaway said in court. Valdez wore expensive suits and owned luxurious properties, including a ranch with a zoo with a lion.

At his sentencing, one of his six sisters asked the judge to be lenient. The parents, brothers, nieces and nephews of La Barbie, filled the room.

Carla Valdez, who works as a prosecutor in Texas, told federal judge William Duffey that she and her brothers were raised by humble and hardworking parents who instilled values and firm moral principles.

Carla Valdez said her brother went astray and insisted that he is a good person. Duffey said it was difficult for him to understand how Valdez became corrupt despite his strong family context.

“Why are you a prosecutor and why is your brother a criminal?” Duffey asked Carla Valdez. That is a question the family asks each day, she answered.

Mexican federal police arrested Valdez and four others at a country house outside of Mexico City in August 2010.

Barbie was one of 13 people that Mexico extradited to the United States in September 2015. He pleaded guilty in January 2016 to criminal association charges for importing and distributing cocaine and criminal association to money laundering.

Defense attorney Buddy Parker stressed that his client had cooperated with US agents even before he was arrested in 2010 for what put his life in danger. Valdez considered surrendering to justice, but was afraid that it would put his family in danger, Parker said when he asked the judge to impose to the least possible sentence, suggesting a sentence of 30 years in prison.

Duffey expressed skepticism and stressed that even though Valdez had contacted US agents, he continued to arrange regular shipments of cocaine to the country.