Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Armando Valencia Cornelio, Founder of the Milenio Cartel, Is Released From Prison After 17 Years

"MX" for Borderland Beat; TY "leChef"
Armando Valencia Cornelio, the founder of the now-defunct Milenio Cartel (Spanish: Cartel del Milenio), was released from U.S. prison after 17 years. Valencia-Cornelio was imprisoned at the Federal Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky, and was serving 19 years for drug trafficking. However, his sentence was reduced due to good conduct. 

Valencia-Cornelio was the founder of the Milenio Cartel, a former criminal group based in Michoacan whose origins date back to the 1970s. This group is the predecessor of what is now the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG). During its heyday, the Milenio Cartel smuggled at least one-third of the cocaine, heroin and marijuana that reached the U.S. from Mexico.

In 2003, Valencia-Cornelio was arrested in Jalisco and imprisoned on drug-related charges. Over the years, the Milenio Cartel's influence greatly decrease after the Gulf Cartel and its former paramilitary group, Los Zetas, made their way into Michoacan. They killed several prominent family members of the so-called Valencia clan, which founded and headed the criminal group. The family eventually resurfaced after the CJNG catapulted in the 2010s under the faction known as Los Cuinis.

Early life
Armando Valencia Cornelio was born in Uruapan, Michoacan, on 28 November 1959 to Juan Valencia and Angela Cornelio.  He was best known by his aliases "Juanito" and "El Maradona". Along with his brothers Luis, Juan and Ventura, Valencia-Cornelio was initially involved in the avocado industry in Michoacan.
During his young adulthood, he moved to the U.S. and settled in Anaheim and Sacramento, California, where he made enough money to invest in the avocado business in Michoacan. At some point in the 1970s, Valencia-Cornelio became involved in drug trafficking (primarily marijuana and opium) along with his siblings and extended family, and quietly formed a drug trafficking network that would later by known as the Milenio Cartel (also referred to as the Valencia Cartel) without Mexican authorities knowing of its existence.

Drug career
In the early 1990s, Valencia-Cornelio was the main figurehead of the Milenio Cartel and extended its reach to the states of Jalisco, Colima, Nayarit and Tamaulipas. In those years, the cartel was also known as the Kings of Avocado (Spanish: Los Reyes del Aguacate) because they disguised their criminal activities with the production and marketing of their avocado businesses.

When the Milenio Cartel became an established criminal group in the 1990s, it developed deep ties with Colombian drug cartels in Medellin, which supplied them with cocaine, as well as Asian providers of precursor chemicals. Their Asian contact was Chinese-born Mexican businessman Zhenli Ye Gon, who imported chemicals into Mexico for the Milenio Cartel.

During those years, Valencia-Cornelio posed as a prosperous rancher and exporter of avocado. Authorities, however, believed he financed this business with drug proceeds. In 1999, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida indicted him for supplying marijuana, cocaine and heroin from Mexico to the U.S. The indictment stated that the Milenio Cartel mostly distributed its narcotics in the U.S. states of California, Chicago and New York. From that moment, he was linked to Sinaloa Cartel drug lords Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel Villarreal and Arturo Beltran Leyva.

The Milenio Cartel's alliance with the Sinaloa Cartel pushed them to an inevitable war with the Gulf Cartel and its former paramilitary group, Los Zetas.

Arrest and extradition
Valencia-Cornelio was arrested by the Mexican Army with seven other men in Tlajomulco de Zúñiga, Jalisco, on 16 August 2003. Most of the people arrested with him were part of a drug trafficking group based in Tamaulipas that once worked under Nuevo Laredo gangster Dionisio Román García Sánchez ("El Chacho"). They were opposed to the Gulf Cartel and their former paramilitary group, Los Zetas.

At the time of his arrest, the Milenio Cartel smuggled about 30 percent of the cocaine, heroin and marijuana that was smuggled into the U.S.
Armando Valencia Cornelio and the 7 other people arrested with him 
Valencia-Cornelio was imprisoned at the Federal Social Readaptation Center No. 1 (also known as "Altiplano"), a maximum-security prison in the State of Mexico.

In 2012, he was extradited to the U.S. to face his outstanding drug charges. After pleading guilty, Valencia-Cornelio was sentenced to 19 years and 7 months in Miami.

According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons, Valencia-Cornelio was released from prison on 21 April 2020. There was no public announcement on his release and/or deportation.

SourcesInfobae; ProcesoCronica de HoyInformadorJornadaNYT; El Norte (print archives)