ATLANTA – A former Texas high school football player and petty street dealer whom authorities say rose to the top ranks of a Mexican drug cartel before he was arrested in Mexico and sent to the U.S. to face accusations that he sent truckloads of cocaine across the border.
Mexican police have said they chased Edgar Valdez Villareal, known as "La Barbie" because of his light eyes and complexion, across five Mexican states for a year before they captured him on a ranch outside Mexico City in August 2010. He was among 13 people extradited to the U.S. in September to face charges.
Valdez pleaded guilty in federal court in Atlanta Wednesday to charges of conspiring to import and distribute cocaine and conspiring to launder money. Prosecutors have said he was responsible for bringing truckloads of cocaine from Mexico for distribution in the eastern U.S. and shipping millions of dollars in cash back to Mexico. An attorney for Valdez had no comment Wednesday.
Valdez was born in the border city of Laredo, Texas, where his father was a nightclub and bar owner. He grew up in a middle-class subdivision popular with border patrol agents, police officers and firefighters.
He became a small-time street dealer as a teen while he was a linebacker at Laredo United High School and then climbed the ranks to become the head of a group of assassins for the Beltran Leyva gang, allied with the Sinaloa drug cartel, authorities have said.
He was named head of Acapulco operations by cartel leader Arturo Beltran Leyva after having served as the kingpin's top bodyguard, authorities have said.
He built a luxurious life for himself in Mexico with homes in the most expensive neighborhoods of Mexico City, authorities have said. But that was threatened when Mexican law enforcement targeted the Beltran Leyva gang, with Mexican marines killing Beltran Leyva during a gun battle in Cuernavaca in December 2009.
That set off a bloody fight for control between Valdez and Beltran Leyva's brother and cartel co-founder, Hector, authorities have said. Dismembered and decapitated bodies were found in the streets and often hanging from bridges in Cuernavaca and Acapulco along with messages threatening one of the two sides in the feud.
Amid the violence and under pursuit by security forces, Valdez left Acapulco for a lower-profile existence in Mexico City. Acting on tips, an elite U.S.-trained Mexican federal police squad arrested Valdez and four associates at a woody vacation home outside Mexico City.
At the time of his arrest in August 2010, then Mexican President Felipe Calderon called Valdez "one of the most-wanted criminals in Mexico and abroad."