One of the most famous drug traffickers in Mexico is no longer listed as being in federal custody just four years after he was convicted on a number of charges and sentenced to 49 years in prison.
Edgar Valdez Villarreal, known by the alias “La Barbie,” is not in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons as of Tuesday, according to the agency’s online catalog of inmates. It’s not clear why Villarreal is no longer in custody, although officials said releases are occasionally granted despite the inmate’s sentence not being completed.
“Inmates who were previously in BOP custody and who have not completed their sentence may be outside BOP custody for a period of time for court hearings, medical treatment or for other reasons,” a Bureau of Prisons spokesperson told the Washington Examiner in a statement.
However, the agency declined to comment further on Villarreal’s apparent absence, noting it’s against the bureau’s privacy regulations to provide such information.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is unaware of Villarreal’s whereabouts, and the only information he has on the cartel is through the news media, he told reporters on Tuesday. Some of the country’s government officials are looking into the details of the release, he added.
Villarreal, who is considered one of Mexico’s most powerful cartel leaders, was sentenced in June 2018 to 49 years and one month behind bars and was fined $192,000 after he pleaded guilty to a number of charges, including cocaine trafficking and money laundering. If Villarreal, who was 44 at the time of the sentencing, is still alive by the time his prison sentence expires, he must complete 10 years of probation, according to the Department of Justice.
Villarreal rose to prominence after beginning his cartel career in 2000, distributing marijuana in Laredo, Texas, and cocaine to some customers in New Orleans and Memphis, according to the DOJ. He later escalated to begin distributing cocaine to more customers nationwide, expanding his operation to coordinate drug shipments into Mexico from Colombia and other South American countries.
In 2004, Villarreal began exporting these South American shipments to his customers in the United States, smuggling the payments over the border to the organization’s supervisors in Mexico, officials said. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency was able to build a case against Villarreal by using wiretaps, seizing drug shipments, interviewing witnesses, and retrieving more than $4 million of his proceeds.