“Socalj” for Borderland Beat

Mexican-American drug trafficker Edgar Valdez Villareal, alias “La Barbie,” is “not currently in federal custody” in the United States, the Federal Bureau of Prisons told CNN.

Valdez Villarreal’s name appears as “Not in BOP custody” on the agency’s website, as first reported by Borderland Beat. When asked why bureau spokesperson Benjamin O’Cone declined to give more details and explained there are “several reasons” why this can happen.

“Inmates who were previously in BOP custody and who have not completed their sentence may be outside BOP custody for a period of time for court hearings, medical treatment, or for other reasons,” O’Cone said in an email to CNN on Tuesday. He added that they do not provide specific information on the status of inmates who are not in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons for “safety, security, or privacy reasons.”

The United States government confirmed that Édgar Valdez Villarreal, “La Barbie”, was transferred from the federal USP Coleman II prison in Florida and one of his former lawyers warns that he was probably sent to New York to assist prosecutors in the preparation of the case against Genaro Garcia Luna.

The absence of Valdez Villarreal from the list of inmates in federal prisons administered by the BOP is the only confirmed fact, but that was enough to trigger intense speculation –and misinformation – in the media, government, and networks on the whereabouts of the former operator of the Beltran Leyva & Sinaloa cartel. The Department of Justice and the BOP do not comment on individual cases or the location of inmates not currently in their custody “for security or privacy reasons.” 

La Barbie’s high-profile, former lawyer, Kent Schaffer believes he might be cooperating against Luna.

Former Lawyer Suspects “La Barbie” Will Testify

Kent Schaffer, a former lawyer for Valdez Villarreal, indicated in an interview with La Jornada that it would be inaccurate to say that his former client has been released completely. 

“Often what happens, hypothetically, is that if he’s going to testify against someone, the (federal) Marshals will transfer him to a detention center, say Rikers Island or the MCC (prisons in New York).” He stressed that he doesn’t know if this is exactly what has happened, but it is what he suspects.

He suggested that his former client may be offering to cooperate as a witness in the January trial of the former Secretary of Public Safety Genaro Garcia Luna in New York, although prosecutors have yet to release the names on his witness list. His lawyers have requested this list, and today, the judge made December 9th the deadline to release names. Although certain at-risk witnesses can be released just days prior to their appearing to testify in court.

US Authorities Questioned “La Barbie” Prior Regarding Garcia Luna

“When I represented him 10 years ago, (the US authorities) were already asking about García Luna at that time,” Schaffer said. “We had several government inquisitions about García Luna. That is why it could make sense that if the trial is in New York, they would transfer him to that city so that the prosecutors have time to talk,” Schaffer said in a telephone interview from the offices of his law firm in Houston.

Schaffer declined to discuss any information Valdez Villarreal might have about Garcia Luna but shared that he had been sufficiently concerned by what his former client knew to request US government assistance to protect him while he was incarcerated in Mexico. “Remember, at that time García Luna was part of the government.” Even before his extradition to the United States, Valdez Villarreal accused García Luna of having received bribes from his cartel since 2002.

It is common practice for US authorities involved in the fight against organized crime to use capos and other drug traffickers captured and extradited to the United States as “cooperating” and/or protected witnesses in the persecution of other leaders, as was the case with “El Chapo” Guzman.

Negotiations with these witnesses can take various forms, but generally revolve around offers of reduced charges or jail sentences in exchange for information, statements, and/or testifying against other drug traffickers before the criminal justice system in the United States.

For this reason, and as his former lawyer Schaffer commented, there are reasons and precedents to suppose – among other possibilities – that Valdez Villarreal could have been transferred from BOP custody to other authorities, such as the United States Marshals Service.

Kent Schaffer was described as, “the best lawyer”, who was contacted by the family of “La Barbie” based in the US at the request of the cartel leader. In a rare moment, Kent Schaffer had, at the request of his client, asked the US government to pursue deportation from Mexico and face justice in the United States.

Other past notable clients of Schaffer have included former Houston mayors, fraudsters, and actors, and since La Barbie, Schaffer was hired by Humberto Moreira, who is accused of money laundering and accused by a witness in the US of laundering money for the Los Zetas cartel. He was also representing various members of the Bandidos outlaw motorcycle club based in Texas, for over 30 years, including after the Waco shootout against rival Cossacks MC. 
La Barbie’s former defense attorney had also represented several Bandidos members, two became government witnesses, presenting a conflict of interest when he looked to defend the outlaw motorcycle gang’s leaders.

In 2017, Judge Henry Bemporad agreed with prosecutors who argued that lead defense attorney Kent Schaffer of Houston might have a conflict of interest while representing Bandidos president Jeffrey Fay Pike, of Conroe. Schaffer represented two then-Bandidos members, who are now government witnesses, and who allege that Pike and Bandidos vice president John Xavier Portillo ordered Bandidos to turn over their court documents when they got arrested so Schaffer could review the papers and see who might be cooperating against the organization. The order comes after a pair of hearings in San Antonio during which Schaffer denied the allegations. Schaffer was removed from the defense team.

Former Bandidos Northeast San Antonio chapter President Raul “K-Oz” Puente testified against Bandidos’ National President. He was given 5 years probation in exchange for his cooperation.

One of the former Bandidos members who flipped was Raul “K-Oz” Puente. Testimony surfaced that Puente cooperated and agreed to wear a wire and record phone calls with other Bandidos, following his 2015 drug indictment. That helped the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and the Texas Department of Public Safety identify the Bandidos’ drug trafficking, and to solve other crimes that were also rolled into a racketeering indictment against the organization’s national leadership.

Puente’s cooperation helped the government flip other high-ranking members of the Bandidos and to convict its top two leaders, former national president Jeffrey Fay Pike of Conroe and then-national vice president John Xavier Portillo of San Antonio. The pair were sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in a three-month trial in 2018 of leading the Bandidos’ racketeering conspiracy that included drug trafficking, assaults on rivals, and murder.

Judge Ezra departed from the recommended sentencing guideline range of 168 months to 210 months in prison, without parole, and instead sentenced Puente to five years of probation. Puente had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamines.