The Mexican government is extraditing major alleged drug cartel suspects to face justice in the U.S., in the wake of the embarrassing prison escape of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, U.S. officials told CNN.
Among those put on planes to the U.S. on Wednesday, the U.S. officials tell CNN: Edgar Valdez Villareal, known as “La Barbie,” a dual Mexican and American citizen who rose a top position in the Beltran Leyva drug cartel, and Jean Baptiste Kingery, an American who allegedly ran a factory making grenades and IEDs to supply to the Sinaloa and other cartels. Also extradited were Luis Umberto Hernandez Celis, Jorge Costilla-Sanchez, Carlos Montemayor, Alberto Nunez-Payan, Ricardo Valles de la Rosa, Aureliano Montoya-Pena and Julio Cesar Valenzuela-Elizalde.
The extraditions are among 13 suspects long sought by the U.S, including one allegedly involved in the murder of an ICE agent in Mexico in 2011, and suspects in the 2010 killings of a U.S. consulate employee and her husband in Juarez, Mexico. In return, the U.S. plans to turn over suspects sought by Mexico, the officials said.
In recent years, the Mexican government has balked at the U.S. extradition requests for top cartel figures, including one for El Chapo, who topped the U.S. most-wanted list of cartel figures.
But a new Mexican attorney general, Arely Gómez González, has promised to change that. She met with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch in June in Washington, and the two countries vowed “a new push for collaboration between the two nations in the context of reciprocity and respect,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Less than a month later, Guzman disappeared from a shower room in the maximum security Altiplano prison.
Valdez was held at the same Altiplano prison since being captured by Mexican authorities in 2010. He is wanted on multiple U.S. indictments, including one in Atlanta, where is expected to eventually face trial, U.S. law enforcement officials said.
The DEA says he was feared for his reputation of brutality, after unleashing a bloody fight for control of cartel territory. After he was captured, the Mexican attorney general’s office published a video of his confession, in which he said he managed lucrative drug routes from Panama to the United States.
For U.S. authorities, getting La Barbie into a U.S. courtroom is a major accomplishment.
“He was known for his ruthlessness, he was one of the cartel’s henchman,” a law enforcement official told CNN.
“It’s significant that the Mexicans are letting him go. He’s one of those ‘high value’ guys we never thought they would hand over.”
U.S. officials also believe that the escape of El Chapo also has brought changes in how Mexico plans to deal with cartel prisoners.
“This is a signal they understand mistakes were made,” the U.S. official said.
Kingery was arrested in Mexico in 2011 and is facing charges both there and in the U.S. He was the subject of a years-long investigation for allegedly trafficking inert grenade hulls – the type commonly sold as novelties in U. S. military surplus stores – to Mexico.
Kingery’s case became embroiled in the controversy over the Fast and Furious gun trafficking operation.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents tried to arrest Kingery in the U.S. in 2010, but a federal prosecutor in Phoenix refused to bring charges initially because the grenade hulls are considered legal in the U.S., and only illegal if trafficked outside the country.
The ATF then coordinated with Mexican law enforcement to try to arrest him after he crossed the border, but Kingery slipped through without being stopped.
When he was arrested in Mazatlan months later, authorities said they found components to make hundreds of grenades, including gun powder and pins. Mexican and U.S. officials believe some of the grenades Kingery’s factory supplied to cartels ended up being used against Mexican military members and cartel rivals.
The U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles is expected to prosecute Kingery, U.S. law enforcement officials said.
CNN’s Wesley Bruer contributed to this report.