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Reputed Mexican drug lord was once a Texan

MEXICO CITY — Scrambling to proclaim victory after more than three years of bloody narcotics warfare, Mexican authorities paraded a Texas-born suspected drug lord before the media Tuesday and offered abundant details of his climb through the violent drug underworld before his capture in a mountain hideout.

While speculation surged that Mexico would deport Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a 37-year-old former football star from Laredo, Texas, to stand trial in the United States, where he's still a citizen, there was no immediate sign of action by Mexico or the United States.

The State Department had offered a $2 million bounty for Valdez, and Mexican authorities held out a similar reward of around $2.2 million.

Valdez, who is known as "the Barbie" for his fair complexion and green eyes, faces numerous federal charges in Texas, Louisiana and Georgia, the earliest dating back to 1998 and the most recent announced in June in Atlanta, for trucking in tons of cocaine.

National security spokesman Alejandro Poire described Valdez as "highly dangerous," a reference to his drug cartel's practice of beheading its enemies. Authorities say he could be responsible for dozens of murders.

Security officials paraded the handcuffed Valdez before the media early Tuesday in an airplane hangar. Hooded security agents stood at his side, and a black helicopter provided the backdrop. Valdez smirked, and even chuckled, at the assembled journalists.

Federal police Commissioner Facundo Rosas said the capture of Valdez came after a yearlong hunt that involved as many as 1,200 law enforcement officers.

By Monday afternoon, a ring of security officers encircled the rustic mountain house in Salazar, about 20 miles west of Mexico City, where Valdez had holed up, Rosas said. Valdez and the others were detained about 6:30 p.m. without any gunfire.

Valdez's capture gives a boost to President Felipe Calderon, who declared war on drug cartels after taking office in late 2006. The death toll, which recently soared past 28,000 people, has soured many Mexicans on Calderon's tough drug enforcement policies. Valdez is the third suspected drug lord to be arrested or killed in nine months.

Poire, the security spokesman, said Valdez maintained ties to drug gangs operating in the United States and Central and South America, and a series of arrests during the day in Colombia appeared to bear out that claim.

Valdez grew up in a middle-class subdivision of Laredo popular with Border Patrol agents, police officers and firefighters. His father was a nightclub and bar owner.

The former Laredo United High School linebacker became a small-time street dealer as a teen. His first arrest came at 19 in Texas, where he was charged with criminally negligent homicide for allegedly running over a middle school counselor in his truck while speeding down a Laredo street. He was never indicted.

Valdez later moved to Mexico City, where in 1998 he met Arturo Beltran Leyva, a drug lord working for the Sinaloa cartel, according to the federal police's counternarcotics chief, Ramon Pequeno.

As the Texan worked his way up the criminal chain, first in Nuevo Laredo along the border, then starting in 2004 in the Pacific Coast resort of Acapulco, he nurtured a reputation for extreme violence, including frequent beheadings of the Beltran Leyva group's enemies, Pequeno said.

By 2007, Valdez ranked senior enough to take part in a meeting at a weekend getaway where bosses of the Sinaloa, Juarez and Gulf cartels — along with the Gulf cartel's armed wing, Los Zetas — gathered to hash out an end to conflict between the rival groups, according to Pequeno.

He said Valdez had many enemies, but one of his bitterest feuds dated to his stint in Nuevo Laredo, where he battled the Gulf cartel and Los Zetas for smuggling routes. His hatred of the No. 2 Zetas leader, Miguel Trevino Morales, alias "El L-40," was so severe it nearly caused a falling out with his own boss.

Eventually, Beltran Leyva and his underlings broke from the Sinaloa cartel, and when the drug lord died in a shootout in December with Mexican marines, his gang was ripped apart by violence, with Valdez seizing control of a faction and becoming a major trafficker, Pequeno said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Reputed Mexican drug lord was once a Texan 09/01/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 7:08am]
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