Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, whose family once ran one of Mexico's biggest trafficking organizations, has pleaded guilty in a United States court to helping to ship tons of cocaine and methamphetamine to the US.
Beltrán Leyva and several of his brothers were close associates, and by some accounts distant relations, of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán — the infamous kingpin who was re-arrested on January 8 after escaping from a maximum-security prison last summer.
"For decades, Alfredo Beltrán Leyva helped to lead one of the world's most notorious drug cartels, causing widespread violence and disrupting lives," Attorney General Loretta Lynch was quoted as saying in the Justice Department statement released on Tuesday to announce his plea.
The 2008 arrest of Alfredo Beltrán Leyva was one of the first high profile takedowns by the government of Felipe Calderón after he began a massive military-led offensive against organized crime nearly a decade ago. His detention was also the trigger of a particularly bloody and bitter war between his brothers and Guzmán that split the Sinaloa Cartel and battered the state from which it took its name.
The feud began when the Beltrán Leyvas accused Chapo of tipping the authorities off to Alfredo Beltrán Leyva's whereabouts in a safe house in Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa. A few months later they ordered an ambush that killed one of Guzmán's sons, Edgar, in a parking lot elsewhere in the city.
The ensuing years saw a huge spike in cartel-related violence that also spread to other parts of the country. Chapo could count on the loyalty of most other Sinaloa trafficking groups, while the Beltrán Leyvas formed an alliance with their erstwhile enemies, the Zetas.
The Beltrán Leyvas eventually lost the battle. The group's demise was sealed by the death of the most powerful of the brothers, Arturo Beltrán Leyva, who was killed in a shootout with the Mexican navy acting on a DEA tip off in December 2009. A less important brother, Carlos, had been arrested in 2009.
The cartel then fell apart — multiple times.
The many relatively small, but particularly violent, groups that are currently fighting over territory in the southern state of Guerrero are mostly spin-offs from the Beltrán Leyva organization. These include Guerreros Unidos, the group blamed for the disappearance of 43 student teachers from the Ayotzinapa teachers' college in September 2014.
Alfredo Beltrán Leyva was extradited to the United States in November 2014, the month after the last remaining significant brother at large was arrested while eating at a restaurant in the colonial town of San Miguel de Allende.
"With this guilty plea, justice has been done, and Beltrán Leyva will be held accountable for his crimes," Attorney General Lynch said in the statement.
The statement appeared to suggest that Alfredo Beltrán Leyva's drug trafficking admission means the US authorities will now no longer be using "evidence that would have shown" his organization's involvement in multiple acts of violence, and the corruption of public officials.
Beltrán Leyva's guilty plea comes just a month after another key member of the cartel — Edgar Valdez Villarreal, aka La Barbie — also admitted his guilt in a US court after being extradited from Mexico.
Both Beltrán Leyva and Valdez Villarreal would most likely have significant information to provide about El Chapo if plea agreements exist that require them to testify against the most famous drug lord of all.
Guzmán is currently imprisoned in Mexico but there has been speculation that he could soon be extradited to the United States.
The Associated Press reported that court documents include testimony of multiple meetings between Alfredo Beltrán Leyva and Guzmán to arrange major shipments. It cites one meeting in which Beltrán Leyva reportedly wore a vest full of grenades.
According to the news agency EFE, Alfredo Beltrán Leyva downplayed his role in the organization while delivering his guilty plea.
"Yes, your honor, I helped my brother Arturo and I conspired to help my brother Arturo," he reportedly said. "No, I was not a leader, I was simply a member of the organization."
Follow Nathaniel Janowitz on Twitter: @ngjanowitz