Criminal JusticeImmigration & BorderIssuesCocaine Trafficker Linked to Gulf Cartel Receives 15-Year Prison Sentence

The defendant’s brother was a Gulf Cartel “plaza boss” who was killed a decade ago by other members of his cartel, according to prosecutors.
March 22, 2023
Federal prosecutors announced that a cocaine trafficker working for one of the most ruthless criminal organizations in the world received a 15-year prison sentence.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen sentenced the defendant, Lee Villareal of Rio Grande City, to 180 months in federal prison on Monday after he was convicted on a charge of “conspiracy to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine” in July 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a news release.

The 39-year old prisoner is the brother of a deceased Gulf Cartel “plaza boss,” Michael Villarreal, who was killed in 2013 by members of his own cartel, the DOJ noted.

Prosecutors said Lee Villareal operated a stash house in Mission, and was responsible for trafficking cocaine to the U.S. from Mexico and Panama in a “large-scale cocaine distribution network.” He also funneled proceeds from the sale of illegal drugs back to the Gulf Cartel.

The DOJ indicated 12 other people have been convicted in connection to the trafficking conspiracy.

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U.S. Attorney Alamdar Hamdani commented on the cartel’s role in drug trafficking.

“Drug cartels like Gulf Cartel aka Cartel del Golfo (CDG) flood our communities with drugs that cause death and destruction, but high-ranking CDG leaders like (Lee) Villarreal are not immune from stiff punishments,” Hamdani said.

“This prosecution dealt a tough blow to the CDG’s operations. Villarreal brought poison to our communities, and collaborative efforts with our partners brought him to justice.”

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, border agents seized 269 pounds of cocaine in February at checkpoints nationwide, and have seized 1,119 pounds so far this fiscal year.


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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."