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Blog del Narco: Mexican Cartel Leader Sentenced to 7 Life Terms in U.S.

Blog del Narco: Mexican Cartel Leader Sentenced to 7 Life Terms in U.S.

Photo: Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez,

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A Mexican drug cartel leader was sentenced to seven life terms after pleading guilty in U.S. federal court to drug trafficking and direct or indirect participation in 1,500 killings since 2008.

The U.S. Justice Department said in a press release that Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez, leader of the Juarez cartel in the northern Mexican border state of Chihuahua, pleaded guilty Thursday to drug trafficking and “numerous acts of violence” in connection with the Barrio Azteca gang.

Acosta Hernandez, 34, was sentenced to seven concurrent life terms by a federal judge in El Paso, Texas, which lies across the Rio Grande from the violent city of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua’s largest.

The defendant, who was extradited from Mexico on March 16, pleaded guilty to four counts of racketeering, money laundering and drug trafficking and seven counts of murder and weapons charges.

The murder charges are related to the March 13, 2010, killings of three people linked to the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, including two U.S. citizens.

U.S. consulate employee Lesley Enriquez, her husband Arthur Redelfs and Jorge Salcido Ceniceros, the husband of another consulate employee, were slain in two separate incidents.

The triple homicide in the country’s murder capital sparked concerns about President Felipe Calderon’s drug war strategy and renewed pledges by the United States to crack down on the north-to-south flow of firearms to drug cartels.

U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone sentenced Acosta Hernandez Thursday to “seven concurrent life terms, three additional consecutive life terms and 20 years in federal prison,” the Justice Department said.

The plea and sentencing of Acosta Hernandez reflects the “close coordination” between U.S. law enforcement and the Mexican government, whose cooperation and assistance was “essential” to achieving the successful extradition of the defendant, it added.

The information presented in court alleged that Acosta Hernandez was an associate of the violent Barrio Azteca street and prison gang that was founded in the late 1980s and expanded into a transnational criminal organization.

Barrio Azteca formed an alliance with “La Linea,” part of the Juarez drug cartel, the purpose of which was to combat the rival Sinaloa drug mob and its allies for control of drug-trafficking routes through Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua state, the press release said.

The Sinaloa cartel is led by Joaquin “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzman, Mexico’s most-wanted fugitive and - according to Forbes magazine - one of the world’s richest people.

Acosta Hernandez admitted that he became the leader of La Linea’s armed enforcement wing in around 2008 and, in coordination with Barrio Azteca, led violent attacks against their rivals.

As part of those efforts, Acosta Hernandez confessed that he had “directed or participated in more than 1,500 murders since 2008,” the press release said.

Ciudad Juarez has been one of the Mexican cities hardest hit in recent years by a nationwide epidemic of drug violence, whose death toll is estimated at some 50,000 since President Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006.