Villarreal was born in Laredo, Texas where he began his drug trafficking career in early 2000 by distributing marijuana.
Born in Laredo, Texas, on the Mexican border, Valdez began working as a street dealer as a teen, before climbing through the ranks of the Beltran Leyva gang at a time when the gang's leaders boasted ties with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and the Sinaloa Cartel.
Villarreal was said to have maintained a flashy lifestyle, wearing expensive suits, going to nightclubs and owning property in the ritziest parts of Mexico City.
He is then said to have transported millions of dollars in cash back to Mexico.
In court, Valdez's sister Carla, an assistant district attorney in Texas, asked the judge for leniency. His parents, other siblings and nieces and nephews, packed the courtroom. She described her brother as someone just caught up in the "financial struggles" experienced by the family.
What followed was a bloody fight for control between Valdez and Arturo's brother, Hector, which left dismembered and decapitated bodies lying in the streets of Cuernavaca and Acapulco.
In 2010, Mexican federal authorities arrested Villarreal at his vacation home outside Mexico City.
At the time, then-Mexican President Felipe Calderon called Villarreal 'one of the most-wanted criminals in Mexico and overseas'.
He was arrested on the outskirts of Mexico City in 2010 before being extradited to the USA in September 2015.
In January 2016, he pleaded guilty to conspiring to import and distribute cocaine and conspiring to launder money. Five years later, he was extradited to the U.S.to face charges. Valdez received credit for the eight years he had already spent in prison, including the time behind bars in Mexico.
Hathaway seized on that skepticism when asking the judge to impose a 55-year sentence. By providing information to USA authorities, she said, Valdez was "structuring a situation where his competitors were being taken out by law enforcement".
Initially, Valdez was up against a life sentence for his crimes.
"I'm not a bad person", Valdez told the judge.
"You have betrayed nearly everything that is important in our country", said U.S. District Judge Bill Duffey at Valdez's sentencing.
A 49-year federal prison term likely means the 44-year-old Valdez-Villareal will spend the rest of his life incarcerated.
"You haven't earned the right to live in an American community", Duffey said.