The patriarch of a Guatemalan family linked by authorities to Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel pleaded guilty on Monday to conspiring to import more than 450 kilograms (992 pounds) of Colombian cocaine into the United States.
Waldemar Lorenzana Lima, 75, had his plea entered by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.
The defendant had been arrested in April 2011 by Guatemalan authorities, and extradited to the United States in March.
The Justice Department accused Lorenzana and three of his sons of conspiring from March 1996 to April 2009 to distribute multiple tons of cocaine within Guatemala and elsewhere, knowing that the drugs would be imported illegally into the United States.
Authorities arrested Lorenzana's son, also named Waldemar, last year and detained another son, Eliu, in 2011. Both face extradition to the United States. Lorenzana's third son, Haroldo, is still at large.
This conspiracy involved dealings with drug trafficking organizations in Colombia and Mexico to transport cocaine by "go-fast" boats and airplanes to El Salvador and Guatemala, for later distribution in the United States, the Justice Department added.
U.S.-based lawyers for Lorenzana did not immediately respond on Monday to requests for comment.
Lorenzana faces a maximum of 40 years in prison, and a mandatory minimum of five years, according to his plea agreement. A sentencing date has yet to be scheduled.
Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, once leader of the Sinaloa cartel and Mexico's most wanted man, was captured by Mexican security forces in February.
The case is U.S. v. Lorenzana Lima, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, No. 03-cr-00331.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York and Ian Simpson in Washington; editing by G Crosse)