Waldemar Lorenzana had his plea entered by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in federal court in Washington, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement. No date was set for sentencing.
The 75-year-old is the patriarch of a Guatemalan family authorities have linked to Mexican drug baron Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán of the Sinaloa cartel.
“For years, members of the Lorenzana family smuggled cocaine to the United States with impunity,” Drug Enforcement Administration Acting Special Agent in Charge Robert Patterson said in a prepared statement.
Prosecutors said that between March 1996 and April 2009, Lorenzana and three of his children worked with illegal drug cartels in Colombia and Mexico to move cocaine into the lucrative U.S. market.
The shipments, in boats and on planes, were sent from El Salvador and Guatemala to several U.S. cities, officials said.
Lorenzana, alias “El Patriarca,” was arrested in 2011 and extradited to the United States in March of this year. Two of his children are in Guatemala awaiting extradition and a third is still at large.
Guatemala has seen a worrisome presence of cartels from neighboring Mexico, particularly Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel and the Zetas.
Authorities say nearly half the almost 6,000 murders a year seen in Guatemala are linked to drug trafficking and gang violence.