By Jose De Cordoba
Edgar Valdez Villareal, a U.S.-born alleged drug lord who was captured in Mexico last week, wants to return to his roots in Texas to face trial rather than stay in a Mexican jail, his lawyer said.
Mr. Valdez, called "La Barbie" in Mexico for his green eyes and sandy colored hair, has a reputation for beheading opponents in Mexico's violent drug wars. He fears that he will get killed in a Mexican prison, according to Kent Schaffer, his Houston-based lawyer.
Mr. Schaffer asked U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual to appeal to the Mexican government to deport Mr. Valdez to the U.S., where he faces charges of drug trafficking.
"I am formally requesting that you petition the Mexican Government to deport Mr. Valdez back to the United States as soon as possible," said the letter, dated Sept. 8, a copy of which was viewed by The Wall Street Journal. "It is my belief that as long as he is incarcerated in Mexico, his life is in danger from other prisoners and, possibly from the Mexican authorities."
Mr. Valdez denies all charges against him, and denies that he was responsible for any beheadings, Mr. Schaffer said.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy said it deferred to the Mexican government on the deportation issue. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department wouldn't comment specifically on Mr. Schaffer's request. "We are working with our colleagues in Mexico to ensure La Barbie faces justice in a courtroom," she said.
Mr. Valdez is being held for a 40-day period while Mexican police investigate charges against him. Mexican officials say they will decide later on whether he will face charges in Mexico or whether he will be deported to the U.S., where he faces charges of trafficking tons of cocaine in Georgia, Texas and Louisiana.
A spokeswoman for the office of Mexico's attorney general said Mr. Valdez is being held at federal police headquarters, where he is safe.
The deportation request is an unusual one in the history of Latin American drug trafficking. In the 1980s, Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar led a bombing campaign against the government there partly to avoid being sent to the U.S. More recently, scores of Mexican drug traffickers have been forcibly extradited to the U.S.
Mr. Valdez, 37 years old, is the first major suspected Mexican drug lord captured alive since his former boss, Arturo Beltran Leyva, known as the "Boss of Bosses," was killed in a gunbattle with Mexican marines in December. Ignacio Coronel, a leading figure in the Sinaloa Cartel, died in a gunfight with Mexican soldiers in July.
Since Mr. Valdez has worked with most of Mexico's top drug barons, including the country's most powerful trafficker, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, he could provide officials with valuable intelligence, analysts say.
Mr. Schaffer said "we have no plans to cut any kind of deal" with the U.S.
Born and raised in the border city of Laredo, Texas, Mr. Valdez was a high-school football standout who went on to become one of Mexico's most-wanted criminals.
Mr. Valdez's deportation would raise the possibility that the alleged drug lord could cut a deal for a reduced sentence with U.S. authorities in exchange for information.
"It's quite obvious that the U.S. government would have a great interest in getting assistance and cooperation of a high-level member of the Mexican mafia," says Ruben Oliva, a Miami-based defense lawyer for some high-level drug traffickers. "There is a very high expectation that this one is one of the first guys who will step up and do the right thing."
Speed is of the essence, as the Mexican prison system is notoriously dangerous and Mr. Valdez has a lot of enemies, says Mr. Oliva. "La Barbie is in an incredible amount of danger of getting killed in a Mexican prison," says Mr. Oliva. "The sooner you put him in a situation where he can cooperate, the fresher the information will be."
Two weeks ago, José Luis Carrizales, who like Mr. Valdez was an alleged enforcer for the Sinaloa cartel, was killed just hours after being transferred to the penitentiary in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, which is largely controlled by a rival drug gang known as the Zetas.
Controversy has swirled around Mr. Valdez since his arrest last week. He startled many Mexicans by smiling during his presentation to reporters in Mexico's version of the "perp walk." Many newspaper and TV commentators speculated that the smile suggested Mr. Valdez hadn't been captured, as the government says, but voluntarily surrendered in exchange for a lighter sentence. Conflicting versions of Mr. Valdez's capture have fed the controversy. Mexican media, basing their accounts on a police report, said Mr. Valdez was arrested after federal police pulled over his three-car convoy for speeding. According to this account, the police didn't know who they had stopped until Mr. Valdez got out, identified himself and surrendered.
The official government version, sketchy on details, said Mr. Valdez was captured after his rural estate was surrounded by federal police in the culmination of a yearlong search.
Mr. Schaffer, Mr. Valdez's lawyer, denies that his client turned himself in. Mr. Schaffer says Mexican police pressured a close acquaintance of Mr. Valdez to send him a text message urgently requesting a meeting. When Mr. Valdez showed up at the spot, he was surrounded by police and had no choice but to surrender. "And that was the end," Mr. Schaffer said.