The Mexican government on Wednesday extradited 13 accused members of organized crime groups to the United States, including Edgar Valdez Villarreal, known as "La Barbie," a key figure in the rise and fall of the Beltran Leyva Cartel.
Valdez Villarreal, who was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, was flown on Wednesday to the United States, an official at Mexico's attorney general's office told VICE News.
"La Barbie," whose nickname sprung from his blonde hair and boyish good looks, rose to prominence a decade ago as a lieutenant of the Beltran Leyva brothers, a family of drug traffickers from the northern Pacific state of Sinaloa who built a criminal network in much of southern Mexico before authorities dismantled their organization.
Before their bloody split, the brothers and Valdez were close allies of Mexico's most famous trafficker, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzman, the top capo of the Sinaloa federation who was arrested in 2014 and escaped from a maximum-security prison in Mexico this July.
Twelve other men in Mexican custody were sent to the US to face charges in various federal district courts, Mexico's chief criminal investigator Tomas Zeron said in a press conference. Among them was a man wanted for the 2011 killing of a US immigration and customs enforcement agent in Mexico, and Jean Baptiste Kingery, an American who sold weapons to the Sinaloa Cartel.
Another wanted man on his way to the United States is Jorge Costilla Sanchez, a former kingpin in the Gulf Cartel and one of the most wanted men by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for money-laundering charges.
The extraditions come amid the continued embarrassment in Mexico over Chapo's spectacular escape from the Altiplano prison on July 11 — the same jail where "La Barbie" was held.
The US government had made no secret of its desire to extradite the capo, but Mexico initially resisted the pressure on nationalistic grounds, saying the country was perfectly capable of trying and sentencing Guzman. The drug lord escaped while a formal request for his extradition was beginning to make headway through Mexico's courts.
"La Barbie" was extradited more than five years after his arrest on August 30, 2010. Later that year, Mexican officials claimed that Valdez would be sent home promptly, yet the case gradually faded from the headlines and the drug lord stayed behind bars in Mexico.
Authorities did not elaborate on why the 13 extraditions came down today, saying only that the detainees were being sent to the United States "in the spirit of collaboration in the fight against organized crime of the governments of both countries."
The men were flown out of the international airport in Toluca, Mexico state, west of Mexico City, the government said. Mexican soldiers secured the perimeters of the transfers from various federal penitentiaries to the Toluca airport.
Valdez became a somewhat larger-than-life figure after his arrest, in which he was caught in a rural area southwest of Mexico City wearing a pine-green Ralph Lauren polo shirt with the word "London" on it.
The look — brightly colored polo shirts emblazoned with the names of trendy world cities — eventually became a popular street-style among aspirational young men in tough areas of Mexico, and the press dubbed the style "narco-polo."
During his presentation to the press after his arrest in 2010, "La Barbie" was seen smiling and smirking conspicuously, leading to speculation that he was looking forward to a possible extradition to the United States in order to share information on rivals or former allies in exchange for a lighter sentence.
He even told government interrogators that he was expecting a film would be produced based on his life as a criminal and drug lord.
The split between Guzman and the Beltran Leyvas led to extraordinary levels of violence across distinct regions of Mexico, from the southern port of Acapulco in Guerrero state to the northeastern regions formerly controlled by the warring Gulf and Zetas cartels. One of the many off-shoot groups that arose from the split is the Guerreros Unidos, a gang accused of carrying out a mass disappearance of 43 teaching students in September 2014.
According to the US Department of Justice, Valdez, 42, is wanted for distributing "thousands of kilograms of cocaine" from Mexico to the eastern United States from 2004 to 2006. US officials did not return calls seeking further comment.
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Jo Tuckman contributed to this report.