By CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN, Associated Press
MCALLEN, Texas (AP) — A top Juarez cartel figure was sentenced to life in prison in a U.S. court on Thursday after he admitted ordering more than 1,500 killings, including the slaying of a U.S. consulate employee in Mexico.
Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez pleaded guilty in El Paso to 11 counts that included conspiracy, racketeering and murder. U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone sentenced Acosta to seven concurrent life terms, three additional consecutive life terms and 20 years in federal prison.
Investigators alleged that Acosta headed La Linea, the Juarez cartel's enforcement arm. He admitted in court Thursday to ordering more than 1,500 killings before he was captured in July with his bodyguard in the northern Mexico city of Chihuahua.
Acosta, nicknamed Diego, was one of 10 people named in the indictment as participating in the killings of Leslie Ann Enriquez, an employee at the U.S. consulate in Juarez; her husband, Arthur Redelfs; and Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, the husband of another consulate employee.
The three had left a children's party on March 13, 2010, in two white sport utility vehicles that were pursued separately by gunmen and riddled with bullets.
"As the leader of La Linea's enforcement wing, Mr. Acosta-Hernandez directed a reign of terror," Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer said in a prepared statement. "Today's guilty plea and sentence are a significant step in our effort to bring to justice those responsible for the consulate murders."
Breuer thanked law enforcement in Mexico, including Attorney General Marisela Morales Ibáñez, for their "extraordinary assistance." Mexico extradited Acosta to the U.S. just three weeks ago.
Acosta's attorney did not return a phone call seeking comment.
When Mexican police arrested Acosta last year, President Felipe Calderon said through his Twitter account that it was "the biggest blow" to organized crime in the violence-plagued border city of Ciudad Juarez.
A factual summary attached to the plea agreement explained that around 2008, Acosta became La Linea's leader and the cartel's plaza boss in Chihuahua and Juarez. He coordinated "armed enforcement actions" with the Barrio Azteca gang against their common enemies.
At the time, the cartel led by Vicente Carrillo Fuentes was waging a bloody war with the Sinaloa cartel. The Mexican government has counted more than 9,500 murders tied to drug violence in Ciudad Juarez between 2008 and 2011.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief Michele Leonhart called Acosta "a cold-blooded murderer with no respect for human life or the rule of law."
The plea document alleged Acosta was involved in some of the most gruesome acts of that period. In addition to the consulate slayings, which the document says Acosta would have known about, Acosta ordered hit men to kill alleged rivals at a birthday party at a Juarez home on Jan. 30, 2010.
"After the armed assault, 16 individuals were killed and 10 individuals were wounded at three different residences in Calle Villas del Portal, Colonia Villas de Salvarcar, Juarez, Mexico," the document said. Most of the victims of what became known as the Salvarcar massacre were teenagers.
On July 15, 2010, Acosta ordered the car bombing on Calle Bolivia in Juarez that killed four people, including two police officers, according to the document.
The violence was part of the cartel's efforts to secure a multimillion dollar drug-trafficking business that moved marijuana, cocaine and heroin through the area, prosecutors alleged.
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