A Texas-born man who prosecutors say rose to the top ranks of a Mexican drug cartel using ruthless violence was sentenced Monday by a federal judge in Atlanta to nearly five decades in prison. Edgar Valdez Villarreal, known as "La Barbie" because of his light eyes and complexion, was sentenced to 49 years and a month and ordered to forfeit $192 million, which prosecutors say is a conservative estimate of the value of the cocaine Valdez brought into the United States. Valdez, 44, was born and raised in the border town of Laredo, Texas, and began dealing marijuana while still a high school linebacker, prosecutors said. He climbed the ranks of the Beltran Leyva cartel at a time when the gang's leaders were associated with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, reports the AP, enjoying a flashy lifestyle and an image meant to impress people and intimidate rivals, prosecutors said.
His security team captured a rival gang member sent to assassinate Valdez; a video shows Valdez and others interrogating the man and then shooting him in the head. Valdez had the video sent to US news outlets and law enforcement. Sister Carla Valdez, who works as a prosecutor in Texas, told US District Judge William Duffey that she and her siblings were raised by humble, hardworking parents who taught them strong values. Duffey struggled to understand how Valdez got so off track. "Why are you a prosecutor and why is your brother a seriously evil criminal?" Duffey asked Carla Valdez. Valdez told the judge he'd like for his life to serve as an example to young people about getting mixed up in drugs. "I'm not a bad person," Valdez said. "I am a good person who has made bad decisions." Duffey wasn't swayed, telling Valdez, "You haven't earned the right to live in an American community."