A Mexican man who prosecutors say headed a major drug-smuggling ring that shipped tons of marijuana into the U.S. was sentenced Friday to 27 years in prison and ordered to forfeit $4 million to the American government.

Carlos Molinares Nunez, also known as "Caliche," was arrested in 2006 and charged for his leadership of the Sinaloa drug cartel. Authorities believe he led the ring for the last five years, directing its activities from his home base in Naco in Sonora, Mexico. He was arrested in Tucson while staying with his wife's relatives.

"Caliche was a key figure in the violent drug trade of the Sinaloa cartel," U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke said. "With this sentencing, his individual organization has been dismantled and destroyed."

Molinares, 37, pleaded guilty to two counts of continuing criminal enterprise and conspiracy on June 5, 2009, in a plea agreement that required forfeiture of all his seized assets, including property, vehicles and jewelry.

Prosecutors said his organization used sophisticated radio communications and observation equipment to keep their drivers informed about where border agents were located so they could cross into the U.S. undetected.

Vehicles were bought under straw buyers' names to carry marijuana, and sometimes held as much as 1,000 pounds of pot.

(This version CORRECTS Updates throughout with details, quote; corrects nickname to Caliche.)