An American Drug Lord in Acapulco

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With his allies dwindling, Barbie was once again on the run. He moved back and forth between Acapulco and Cuernavaca and Mexico City, rarely staying anywhere for more than a night, and started looking for a new country that would take him in. He wasn't comfortable as a hunted man – he couldn't enjoy his wealth, or party at nightclubs, or go to fancy restaurants. One day, desperate to go out and do something, anything, he told one of his men to put on a baseball cap and drive him to the main tourist strip in Acapulco. They bought ice cream cones and walked down the street with its T-shirt stands and tourist shops, the sun warming their faces. After a half-hour, though, Barbie started to get nervous. There, was that person looking at him, over by the street corner? Was that a sniper, there on that roof? Barbie retreated to his car, more sullen than ever.

Not long afterward, the federales showed up at one of Barbie's homes near Acapulco. He wasn't there, but they roughed up Priscilla and her mother, which scared him badly. He thought about turning himself in, but couldn't bring himself to do it. Then, a few weeks later, one of Barbie's assistants was pulled over by the police on the way to a carwash in Mexico City. Two officers jumped out of their black truck, guns drawn. "Freeze, motherfucker!" they screamed. They demanded to know where Barbie was. "Where is that son of a bitch?" one officer said. "Don't bullshit, or I'll cut off your balls and feed them to you." The cops informed the man that they had apprehended his family on their way to the vet with a sick dog. Terrified, the assistant caved. Barbie was at a ranch house on a secluded lot, he told them. Police descended on the hide-out, and Barbie was seized while he was trying to flee through a side door.

The police paraded Barbie around the station so the press could get plenty of photos, which were soon splashed all over the media. President Calderón tweeted the news, reveling in the capture: Barbie was one more name he could cross off his list of the 37 "most wanted" drug lords. For the past few years, Calderón has focused on big-name drug arrests like Barbie's, but it's unclear whether the strategy is working. To date, more than 45,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug war, and the death toll continues to rise.

At first, Barbie was confined to a temporary holding cell in Mexico City, where his lawyer was allowed to bring him moisturizer, Crocs and fresh polo shirts. But these days, he is being held in one of the most violent prisons in Mexico, charged with murder, money laundering and trafficking illegal narcotics. He is locked in solitary confinement almost 24 hours a day, a video camera monitoring his every move. He isn't allowed visitors, nor contact with other prisoners. Once or twice a week, officers wearing ski masks and toting machine guns remove him for a shower. He gets a phone call every 10 days.

The Mexican government agreed in November to extradite Barbie to the U.S., where he faces charges in Atlanta, New Orleans and Laredo. So far, though, there's no sign he'll be handed over to the Americans anytime soon. "According to the Mexicans, he was supposed to be back in the U.S. in 60 days," says Barbie's attorney, Kent Schaffer. "But since they've consistently lied, that could be anywhere from 120 days to three years – if they don't kill him." A U.S. investigator reports that Barbie has been "severely beaten" while in custody.

Barbie was shocked to discover that his own country didn't want to save him. In his twisted self-image, he's still an all-American good guy. According to several law-enforcement sources familiar with the case, Barbie has secretly been talking to the DEA for at least two years. He was the one, it turns out, who betrayed Arturo Beltrán, telling the cops where they could find the drug kingpin. Barbie apparently wanted Arturo gone so he could take over the Beltrán cartel – but he was also trying to cut a deal with the DEA, just in case things didn't work out and he was forced to turn himself in. "He wanted to use his information as a bargaining chip," says a law-enforcement source.

Once or twice a year, Barbie would call the DEA, or his older brother, Abel, a former probation officer in Texas, would call on his behalf. In return for surrendering, Barbie wanted immunity and permission to bring $5 million into the U.S. "The DEA made overtures to Edgar, and they told him they could do all sorts of things," says Schaffer. "But they never cleared it with the Justice Department, so they didn't have the authority to do it."

Now, after years of stalling, Barbie has discovered it's too late to cut a deal. All his information is old, and much of his network has been captured or killed – even Priscilla's dad, who confessed to ordering the murders of 20 tourists last year, because he thought they were members of a rival cartel. Wherever Barbie winds up facing trial, no one expects him to receive less than life in prison. In Memphis, his old customer Petties may be willing to turn evidence against him, to avoid the death penalty for murdering four rivals.

In Laredo, Barbie's family is hopeful that he will end up in a prison near them. But since he was arrested, they have reportedly started to squabble among themselves. Barbie's parents now live in a mansion in a lovely, upscale development of Laredo, all curving streets and mowed lawns. Several Porsches and Lexuses are parked in the driveway. It's a far cry from the tiny home where they raised their son Edgar, a fun-loving kid who liked football and beer and driving too fast. His father, a lithe man with sparkling green eyes, is careful to distance himself from the boy who became La Barbie. "I'm not the judge, or the confessor," he says, a smile playing around his lips. "At this point, this is between my son and God."

Before he was captured, Barbie did have a bit of good news: He was going to have his first baby girl, his second child with Priscilla. His daughter was born in a hospital in Laredo. He couldn't be there; it was simply too dangerous for him to come to Texas. But he was glad it happened that way. He wanted her to be an American citizen.

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This story is from the September 1, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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