A former money manager of the Juarez drug cartel pleaded guilty Thursday in downtown Los Angeles to a federal conspiracy charge stemming from Operation Casablanca, once billed as the largest drug money-laundering investigation in U.S. history.

Jose “El Compadre” Alvarez-Tostado, 63, entered his plea to a single federal count of conspiracy to aid and abet the distribution of controlled substances, which carries a possible 20-year prison sentence. U.S. District Judge George H. Wu scheduled sentencing for March 28.

Alvarez — the lead defendant in a 35-person indictment filed in Los Angeles federal court — managed the collection, laundering and distribution of at least $24 million and more than a ton of cocaine. As part of the 1990s sting operation, undercover agents set up shop in a Santa Fe Springs warehouse and posed as money launderers to collect evidence.

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 over 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.

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.

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