ATLANTA — A one-time Texas high school football player who achieved notoriety as an alleged drug kingpin in Mexico is expected to plead guilty to trafficking charges in U.S. District Court in Atlanta.
The unlikely rise of Edgar Valdez Villarreal as an American in the Mexican drug cartel hierarchy made him an intriguing figure, as did his nickname, “La Barbie.” There is even a movie in the works in Hollywood, “American Drug Lord.”
The U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of Georgia on Tuesday confirmed that Valdez will change his plea to guilty at a hearing Wednesday afternoon in an Atlanta courtroom.
Valdez will plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, attempt to import or export cocaine, and money laundering, defense attorney Wilmer “Buddy” Parker told CNN en Español.
Parker said his client did not make an agreement of cooperation with the U.S. government and the sentence he could receive is still unknown.
Valdez is accused of smuggling 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of cocaine across the border at Laredo, Texas, every week for much of 2005, U.S. authorities have said.
Valdez, a dual American and Mexican citizen, was born in Laredo, a key hub for cross-border commerce, legal and illegal.
He was a linebacker for his high school football team, and his coach was the one who nicknamed him “La Barbie” because of his blue eyes and light complexion, according to a profile in Rolling Stone.
Across the border, Valdez rose up the ranks of Mexican drug traffickers, allegedly being a one-time top lieutenant of Mexico’s most wanted man, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Valdez later joined the breakaway Beltran Leyva cartel, but the leader of that group, Arturo Beltran Leyva, was killed in a shootout with Mexican officials in late 2009. Beltran’s brother Carlos was arrested, leaving Valdez in a fight to fill a power vacuum in one of Mexico’s most powerful drug cartels.
His penchant for expensive polo jerseys created a fashion trend known as the “Narco Polo.”
Nickname and sense of style aside, La Barbie was no softy.
He made his name in the Mexican drug underworld as a hitman, authorities say. In the mid-2000s, two drug cartels — the Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel — fought a long and bloody turf battle for Nuevo Laredo smuggling routes. Valdez was one of the soldiers in those battles.
Mexican authorities touted his 2010 arrest as a high-profile win in the nation’s drug war. At the time, he was on the list of most-wanted drug traffickers in both Mexico and the United States. The United States offered a $2 million reward for his capture.
After his arrest, the Mexican attorney general’s office published a video of his confession, in which he said he managed lucrative drug routes from Panama to the United States.
Valdez spent five years in a Mexican prison, where according to The New Yorker, he shopped around intelligence on other traffickers and corrupt Mexican officials in exchange for a reduced sentence.
Valdez’s former boss, Guzman, was arrested in 2014. But the following year, he escaped from prison, causing great embarrassment to the Mexican government. Shortly afterward, Mexico extradited high-profile traffickers — including Valdez — to the United States.