A cartel leader and hitman fond of videotaping torture sessions and decapitating likely dozens of enemies has gone missing from a federal prison in Florida, where he was serving a 49-year sentence.
As of November, Edgar Valdez-Villareal, a Mexican American cartel leader, had been mysteriously removed from the federal Bureau of Prisons website. He is now listed as “not in BOP custody” even though his release date is not until July 27, 2056.
Valdez-Villareal, 49, is known by his underworld moniker “La Barbie,” and headed up the Los Negros, an enforcement group of the Beltran Leyva cartel — one of Mexico’s most ruthless underworld groups. At one point, he was a top lieutenant for the Sinaloa Cartel, run by convicted drug dealer Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman-Loera.
Valdez-Villareal grew up in Laredo, Texas, and was given his nickname from a high school football coach because his blue eyes and light complexion made him look like a Ken doll, according to a report.
“We called him Ken Doll, mostly because his hair was blond and kinky like the doll’s,” a friend from United High School told Rolling Stone in 2011. “The coach upped the ante to Barbie, and it took off like wildfire.”
Fond of designer clothes and expensive watches, Valdez-Villareal eluded authorities for years despite bounties that totaled in the millions of dollars. After the December 2009 death of cartel leader Arturo Beltran-Leyva, La Barbie launched a brutal battle for control of the Beltran-Leyva cartel. As a leader of Los Negros, he participated in torture, which he often videotaped, and recruited police officers and rival cartel members as informants, according to Mexican news reports.
During a particularly vicious phase of a turf war between cartels in Cuernavaca in August 2010, four decapitated bodies were found hanging from a bridge with a warning that anyone helping La Barbie would suffer a similar end.
He was finally captured during a firefight with Mexican authorities at a rural home northwest of Mexico City in 2010. At the time of his capture, he was the only American citizen to have ever risen so high in the ranks of Mexico’s cartels.
La Barbie moved to Mexico in the 1990s after being charged in the US with dealing marijuana, according to reports. He soon became one of the ruthless underworld enforcers in the battles between drug traffickers that left hundreds dead in Mexico.
When working for the Sinaloa Cartel, Valdez-Villareal was asked by El Chapo to help bribe Mexican prison employees to get long johns to the cartel leader’s son. When two men took the bribe but asked for $500,000 rather than the original $100,000 fee, La Barbie ratted them out — leading to their torturous deaths.
For years, he controlled the drug routes into Acapulco, moving two tons of cocaine into the US every month, according to reports. He was also responsible for much of the violence that erupted in the area. In addition to his own Los Negros hit squad, he recruited other gang members, including MS-13, to eliminate his rivals, according to US authorities.
Valdez-Villareal was indicted in the US in 2010 and extradited to the US five years later, where he was found guilty of drug trafficking and money laundering.
The question of why he is no longer in BOP custody was asked at the highest levels of the Mexican government last week.
“It’s very strange what is going on in the United States with Mr. Villareal, who is no longer registered among those in custody and we want to know where he is,” said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in a press conference. “There is no reason for him to leave prison because he was condemned to many years, unless there was some kind of an agreement.”
Some experts on the Mexican cartels say that Valdez-Villareal could have made a deal with federal authorities.
“He could be providing information on high-ranking cartel members, but even if this were the case I can’t see him being released from custody,” said Robert Almonte, a security consultant and former deputy chief of the Texas Police Department in El Paso. “He’s very dangerous. He’s killed people and he’s extremely violent and still has these connections to the cartels.”
A spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons refused to say why Valdez-Villareal was no longer in federal custody, but told The Post that there could be many reasons. Inmates can be temporarily removed from the site if they are undergoing court hearings, medical treatments or unspecified “other reasons.”