Mexico Cartel Leader’s Sentencing Sends Strong Message to El Chapo

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Authorities in the United States have handed down a prison sentence of almost 50 years to a former high-level leader of one of Mexico’s most notorious drug cartels and ordered him to forfeit hundreds of millions of dollars, which may be a move from authorities to put added pressure on El Chapo before his trial begins in September.

On June 11, the US Justice Department announced the sentencing of Edgar Valdez Villareal, alias “La Barbie,” a former leader of Mexico’s Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO), to 49 years and one month in a US prison and ordered him to pay $192 million.

La Barbie was first arrested by Mexican authorities in 2010 and was later extradited to the United States in September 2015 on drug trafficking and money laundering charges. He originally pleaded not guilty to these charges but later changed his plea to guilty in January 2016.

SEE ALSO: Beltran Leyva Organization Profile

In 2016, La Barbie was reportedly working with US authorities to strike a deal for a lighter sentence in exchange for providing information on his and rival criminal organizations.

According to Mike Vigil, the former Chief of International Operations at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), La Barbie most likely would have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole had he not cooperated with authorities.

According to the Justice Department, La Barbie regularly delivered “shipments of 150-180 kilograms of cocaine to distributors in multiple [US] cities” while becoming a “top-level enforcer” for the Beltrán Leyva Organization who “coordinated a war against his rivals” during his decades-long criminal career.

The arrest and extradition of La Barbie is part of a broader controversial “kingpin strategy” followed by Mexican authorities with the support of the United States to target the criminal bosses of Mexico’s violent drug cartels.

However, this strategy has caused Mexico’s criminal landscape to increasingly fragment, and helped to provoke record levels of violence as groups battle each other for territorial control.

InSight Crime Analysis

The 49-year prison term handed down to La Barbie — a past ally of former Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán — may be an attempt to further discourage El Chapo’s defense team and push them towards striking a deal with US authorities.

“They [US authorities] want to demoralize El Chapo and his attorneys’ hopes of winning the case that is pending against him in New York,” Vigil told InSight Crime.

El Chapo was arrested in January 2016 and later extradited to the United States the following year. He pleaded not guilty in January of 2017 to more than a dozen charges ranging from drug trafficking to money laundering.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

According to Vigil, demoralizing the former kingpin’s defense team through La Barbie’s sentencing could go a long way in “reaching a plea agreement where El Chapo might cooperate.”

According to El Chapo’s defense team, one of the things that has negatively impacted the former capo the most while in US custody has been his time in solitary confinement. While it’s almost certain that El Chapo will never see the outside of a prison cell, Vigil told InSight Crime that La Barbie’s sentence — and the life sentence received by a Honduran associate of El Chapo — may put pressure on the former cartel leader and his defense team to cooperate.

“It’s possible they could reach an agreement where he [El Chapo] would plead guilty, get sentenced to life in prison and maybe cooperate with authorities in exchange for taking him out of solitary confinement and putting him in a maximum security penitentiary,” Vigil said.

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