A former money manager of the Juarez drug cartel was sentenced Thursday in Los Angeles to 18 years behind bars stemming from his role in Operation Casablanca, once billed as the largest drug money-laundering investigation in U.S. history.
Jose "El Compadre" Alvarez-Tostado, 63, pleaded guilty in January to a single federal count of conspiracy to aid in the distribution of cocaine.
U.S. District Judge George Wu agreed to recommend to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons that Alvarez be given credit for the 12 years and eight months he has already served while the case was pending.
Alvarez -- the lead defendant in a 35-person indictment filed two decades ago in Los Angeles federal court -- managed the collection, laundering and distribution of at least $24 million and more than a ton of cocaine, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. As part of a 1990s sting operation, undercover agents set up shop in a Santa Fe Springs warehouse and posed as money launderers to collect evidence.
Speaking through an interpreter, Alvarez offered apologies to "the American population ... for the harm I caused consciously on unconsciously to the citizens."
Alvarez's attorney, Anthony Solis, said after the hearing that his client was sincere.
"He's had a lot of time to reflect on his actions," Solis said.
"He's lost a lot of his life in custody and I believe he does regret the harm he caused."
Alvarez collected more than $40 million from narcotics sales in the United States and transferred the money into Mexican bank accounts on behalf of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the reputed chief of the Juarez cartel until his death in 1997 during plastic surgery, according to the 1998 indictment.
Alvarez had been on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's most- wanted list until he was arrested by Mexican authorities in 2005 and subsequently extradited to Los Angeles last year.
Launched in 1995, Operation Casablanca linked some Mexican banks and banking officials with the laundering of cartel drug profits. The three-year Los Angeles-based probe resulted in more than 100 arrests and seizures of $50 million dollars in illegal proceeds from drug money laundering and more than two tons of cocaine and four tons of marijuana.