Reuters International

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The suspected head of a Mexican drug cartel that U.S. authorities said was responsible for distributing tons of cocaine into the Unit-ed States and Europe before being arrested in 2014 pleaded guilty on Wednesday.

Tirso Martinez-Sanchez, 49, pleaded guilty in federal court in Brooklyn to distributing cocaine with the intention that it would be imported into the United States, according to his lawyer.

The charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life, though under an extradition agreement with Mexico, the U.S. government has agreed to not seek a life term, said Peter Quijano, Martinez-Sanchez's lawyer.

Prosecutors said Martinez-Sanchez was the leader of an extensive international narcotics organisation that was responsible for importing and distributing tens of thousands of kilograms (pounds) of cocaine.

Prosecutors said the organisation obtained cocaine from Colombian sources and Martinez-Sanchez organised its importation into the United States using an network of trains, tractor trailers, and other vehicles.

The U.S. State Department, which had offered a $5 million reward for information that could lead to his capture, has said the group brought 76 tons of cocaine into the United States from 2000 to 2003 and also distributed cocaine into Europe.

Once the drugs were in the United States, Martinez-Sanchez directed members of his organisation to transport it to large distribution centres in areas including Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, prosecutors said.

He utilized a network of large warehouses to store and distribute the cocaine in the United States, which were bought or leased using a number of front companies, prosecutors said.

Martinez-Sanchez invested proceeds from his narcotics activities in a number of ventures, including purchase of professional soccer teams and a chain of high-end clothing boutiques, prosecutors said.

He was arrested in Mexico in February 2014 and extradited to the United States in December 2015.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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