05/25/12 – Sergio Villarreal Barragán, known as “El Grande” because he stands over six and a half feet tall, was extradited to the United States on Tuesday May 22. Villarreal Barragán was an alleged former leader and lieutenant of the Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO) from 2007 to 2010 where he was heavily involved in the drug trade, specifically cocaine, and handling the cartel’s finances. The United States requested his extradition to a Texas court where he will face charges of drug trafficking and money laundering. According to the U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman, El Grande allegedly confiscated upwards of $100 million (USD). He appeared before a court on May 23 and, while in the custody of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), now awaits his next court date.
Perhaps equally as important as the extradition was significant to the cooperation between the U.S. and Mexican governments is the report from multiple sources that El Grande was responsible for naming the four Mexican military officials that were apprehended earlier this week on suspicion of colluding with the Beltrán Levya Organization in the past. Of the four arrested, one was the former undersecretary of National Defense (subsecretario de la Defensa Nacional) and one other was still active in the service at the time of his arrest while the other three had retired within the past decade. (Read more about the officials here). While the investigations into the officials are still ongoing, El Grande’s role in naming names and exposing the connections could be significant. Additionally, as Proceso reported, El Grande cooperated with the Federal Attorney General’s Office in Mexico (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR), and very well may do the same in the United States, perhaps becoming a protected witness for the DEA.
Before joining the Beltrán Leyva Organization, Villarreal Barragán served as a policeman in the Coahuila Judicial Police force and then became a member of the Federal Police (Policía Federal). After becoming involved in organized crime in 2007, he quickly rose through the ranks among the Beltrán Leyva Organization. In 2009, the leader of the cartel, Arturo Beltrán Leyva, was killed in a shootout by members of the Mexican Navy, which severely divided the cartel as various factions arose to battle for the vacancy. El Grande took part in the infighting at the time, but was captured not a year later in the state of Puebla, also by the Navy. At the time of his arrest in September 2010, the Mexican government had a reward out for the cartel leader of 30-million pesos.