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A ‘Goliath’ among the Mexican drug traffickers is sentenced to life in U.S. prison

Alfredo Beltran Leyva, who with his brothers once ran one of Mexico’s most powerful drug cartels, appeared in federal court in Washington on Wednesday and asked for a chance to be reunited with his family as an old man.

He got life in prison instead — and was ordered to forfeit nearly more than half a billion dollars.

“You’ve come to the end of a long road, a road filled with violence,” said U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, who called him “a leader of one of the largest drug cartels in the world” before issuing the sentence.

Beltran Leyva was one of the “Goliaths of Mexican drug traffickers, known for his savage business tactics,” James J. Hunt, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York office, said in a statement.

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Prosecutors said the Beltran Leyva organization started in Sinaloa in the mid-1990s under the drug cartel run by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who now sits in prison awaiting trial in New York.

The group moved tons of cocaine and methamphetamine into the U.S., warred with rival gangs in Guerrero and Mexico state and bought off politicians, police and the press, according to prosecutors.

Planes carrying more than 650 pounds of cocaine would fly daily to the United States, they said.

Arrested in 2008 in Mexico, Beltran Leyva was extradited to the United States in 2014 and pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and importing drugs.

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When he was arrested, Mexican police said his .38-caliber pistol was decorated with emeralds, an engraving of revolutionary leader Francisco “Pancho” Villa and a saying: “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees.”

At the court hearing Wednesday, Beltran Leyva, 46, known as “El Mochomo,” admitted he worked in the family cocaine trade but portrayed himself as a mere flunky among the brothers.

“I have never sent 1 kilogram of cocaine to the U.S.,” he said. “I ask that you have mercy on me.”

Leon said he had no doubt that Beltran Leyva was a leader of the family cartel. He also ruled that Beltran Leyva would forfeit $529 million, which he said was a “very conservative” estimate of his drug profits.

joseph.tanfani@latimes.com

Twitter: @jtanfani


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