44-year-old drug kingpin and former football player Edgar Valdez-Villareal, otherwise known as “La Barbie”, was sentenced by US District Judge William Duffey to 49 years in prison on Monday for transporting trucks full of cocaine from Mexico to the United States. and shipping back millions of dollars back across the border. According to the US Department of Justice, the Beltran-Leyva Cartel leader pled guilty to conspiring to import and distribute cocaine in addition to conspiring to launder money in January 2016. He will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars, and has also been forced to forfeit $192 million.

Valdez-Villareal had been arrested by the federal police near Mexico City in 2010 following a long search that had begun eight years prior.  In 2009, he was listed as one of Mexico’s 24 most wanted drug traffickers, with a $2.3 million reward for information aiding in his capture. He was extradited to the US to face his charges.

Valdez-Villareal, originally a Texas native, had climbed his way up the

ranks of one of Mexico’s most influential and ruthless drug cartels. About two decades ago, when he was still a linebacker for his high school football team in Laredo, he began to build up a network by selling marijuana on the streets, eventually moving on to ship cocaine across the border to cities like Memphis and New Orleans. His nickname comes from his football coach and was given on account of his pale skin and green eyes.

In due course, La Barbie teamed up with powerful drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva, one of the two brothers leading the Beltran-Leyva Cartel, as well as Joaquin Guzman-Loera, better known as El Chapo. Valdez-Villareal would transport cocaine out of Colombia and other South American countries via speedboats into Mexico and the US, going on to become El Chapo’s top lieutenant.

He lived a life of luxury, notorious for dressing up in Polo jerseys, going out to and even buying up his own expensive clubs, and owning extravagant houses in Mexico City’s wealthiest areas. But after Mexican marines killed cartel leader Arturo Beltran in 2009, he and Arturo’s brother Hector engaged in a violent gang war for control over the cartel, employing ruthless tactics like decapitation and torture, captured on videotape. This bloody battle resulted in over 150 deaths. In August 2010, for instance, four bodies with their heads cut off were discovered dangling from a bridge in the Mexican city of Cuernavaca, accompanied by a written warning that anyone known to he helping La Barbie would undergo a similar fate.

According to the US government, Los Negros, the enforcement gang led by La Barbie, had hired local gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha, (MS-13), and the Mexican Mafia (La Eme), to carry out murders and other violent crimes. Los Negros fell apart by 2011 following La Barbie’s capture.

In 2016, actor Armie Hammer bought the rights to make about La Barbie and his life after contacting the former drug lord’s family. However, Legendary Pictures also acquired the rights to a film about La Barbie in 2011 based on a Rolling Stone article by Vanessa Grigoriadis and Mary Cuddehe.

According to Grigoriadis and Cuddehe, La Barbie had been the only US citizen ever known to have risen to the top of a Mexican cartel and had controlled as much as 2 million grams of cocaine coming into the US on a monthly basis. He “believed in vengeance, and in taking care of his enemies.” But during high school, he had been a popular kid and a solid football player.

During his trial, Valdez-Villareal’s siblings pleaded with Judge William Duffey to be lenient with his sentence. And yet with an almost 50-year sentence plus 10 years of supervised release, the former drug lord will probably never walk out of prison as a free man.

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