AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A senior member of a Mexican drug cartel was sentenced to life in prison in a U.S. court on Thursday after authorities implicated him in more than 1,500 murders, including the 2010 execution of a U.S. consulate employee in northern Mexico.
Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez, 34, pleaded guilty to 11 counts that included murder, conspiracy to kill people in a foreign country and various racketeering, money laundering and drug charges.
U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone in El Paso, Texas, sentenced Hernandez to seven concurrent life terms and three additional consecutive life terms.
"The defendant directed or participated in over 1,500 murders since 2008," according to the plea agreement with Hernandez, who was extradited from Mexico in March.
Hernandez was in charge of the armed enforcement wing of the Juarez Drug Cartel, which had formed an alliance with the Barrio Azteca drug gang that operated in Texas and Mexico to control the Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico drug trafficking, prosecutors said in the court papers.
Ciudad Juarez has served as a major route for smuggling narcotics into the United States.
He ordered his men to kill members of a rival gang at a January 2010 birthday party in Ciudad Juarez that killed 16 and ordered a car bombing that killed four individuals including two Mexican police officers, the plea said.
Prosecutors also said that the three people linked to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez were murdered by members of the Barrio Azteca group as part of the agreement with Hernandez.
U.S. Consulate employee Leslie Enriquez and her American husband, Arthur Redelfs, were gunned down in broad daylight on March 13, 2010, as they left an event sponsored by the consulate, which across the border from El Paso, Texas.
The Barrio Azteca gang was also accused of murdering a Mexican man, Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, who was married to another consulate employee, around the same time in another part of the city after they left the same event.
The motive for the murders has not been previously revealed, though one U.S. official said last year that it could have been a case of mistaken identity. Already others arrested and charged in the case have pleaded guilty.
Violence between warring drug gangs as well as with Mexican authorities has plagued the country for years with more than 50,000 people killed since late 2006, which has scared off tourists and hurt its economy.
Reporting by Corrie MacLaggan in Austin and Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker