Accused drug lord 'La Barbie' to plead guilty to U.S. charges

By David Beasley
Major drug trafficker Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez is escorted by Mexican federal police during a news conference at the federal police center in Mexico City August 31, 2010. REUTERS/Henry Romero

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A man who rose from a marijuana dealer in the United States to a high-ranking drug lord in Mexico is expected to plead guilty to U.S. drug and money laundering charges, his lawyer said on Tuesday.

Edgar Valdez-Villareal, a former leader of Mexico's Beltran Leyva cartel who is nicknamed "La Barbie" for his fair complexion, ran a cocaine operation so large that he and his co-conspirators moved cash across the U.S.-Mexico border in tractor-trailer trucks, according to his 2009 indictment.

The change-of-plea hearing will be held in federal court in Atlanta on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Attorney's office there.

The Texas-born Valdez-Villareal will plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, exporting and importing cocaine and money laundering, his lawyer William "Buddy" Parker said.

Valdez-Villareal, 42, faces a maximum sentence of life without parole.

"There's no plea agreement," Parker said, declining further comment.

Valdez-Villareal was a top lieutenant and hit man for Arturo Beltran Leyva and also led a group of killers responsible for murders carried out by the drug trafficking organization, according to the U.S. Department of State.

He was arrested in Mexico in 2010, along with six other men at a house guarded by cartel gunmen, authorities said. He was extradited from Mexico last fall.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Alistair Bell)