Mexico demands answers on drug lord's apparent disappearance from U.S. prison system

"Information is being requested... Let's not get ahead of ourselves." 
Lopez Obrador, Joe Biden, Washington, D.C., July 12, 2022

Mexico's senior leadership is demanding answers from U.S. officials amid the apparent disappearance of convicted drug lord Édgar Valdez Villarreal, also known as "La Barbie," from the U.S. prison system.

A search through the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons database for Valdez Villarreal's prison register number, 05658-748, indicates that he is slated for release in July of 2056, but includes a message in all capital letters stating he is "NOT IN BOP CUSTODY." That message remains live as of press time.

One of the most deadly drug-traffickers in Mexican history, La Barbie was sentenced in June 2018 and has been serving time in the Coleman II high-security penitentiary in central Florida, according to El Pais, which first reported the matter of Valdez Villarreal's unknown whereabouts. The drug lord had overseen hitmen and collected payments for his boss, Arturo Beltrán Leyva, considered at the time to be the "boss of bosses."

Villarreal's unclear status has prompted Mexican leaders to demand an explanation.

"Information is being requested," said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Tuesday. "Over the course of the day or tomorrow everything will be known. Let's not get ahead of ourselves." Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard added that he had not received any word of La Barbie's release and concluded he was still in custody.

The U.S. Department of Corrections told El Pais that "[t]here are a number of reasons why an inmate may be listed as 'not in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons.'"

"Inmates who were previously in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons and who have not served their sentence may be out of custody for a period of time to attend court hearings, receive medical treatment or for other reasons," they continued. "We do not provide specific information about the status of prisoners who are not in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons for security or privacy reasons."

El Pais reached out to one of Valdez Villarreal's lawyers, who said he didn't know why his client's status had changed in the database.

La Barbie was a leading figure in inter-cartel wars within Mexico and is credited with escalating the brutality of said conflicts with recordings of his group's victims being tortured and killed. His 2010 arrest was hailed as a significant blow to the criminal organizations within the country.

He has since claimed that his arrest was the result of political persecution by then-President Felipe Calderón, saying he had declined to enter into a deal with the Mexican government. Calderón has denied the allegations.