The unlikely rise of Edgar Valdez Villareal as an American in the Mexican drug cartel hierarchy made his case unique, a federal prosecutor told reporters shortly after the court hearing.
So did his nickname, "La Barbie," which his high school football coach reportedly gave him because of his blue eyes and light complexion
His penchant for expensive polo jerseys created a fashion trend known as the "Narco Polo," and a Hollywood film about his life, dubbed "American Drug Lord," is already in the works.
But the scene that played out in an Atlanta courthouse on Wednesday was far from glamorous.
Wearing a khaki prison uniform, Valdez, 42, looked much leaner than he did in photos of his 2010 arrest in Mexico, which showed him smiling before the cameras.
He answered, "yes, your honor," to a series of questions from the judge, ultimately using that phrase to say he pleaded guilty to charges of cocaine importation, cocaine distribution and money laundering.
He is scheduled to be sentenced in March and faces a minimum penalty of 10 years and maximum penalty of life in prison.
Rising through the ranks
Valdez was born in Laredo, Texas, a key hub for cross-border commerce, legal and illegal.
He is accused of smuggling 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of cocaine across the border there every week for much of 2005, U.S. authorities have said.