The self described enforcer for a violent Juarez, Mexico, drug cartel has pleaded guilty to conspiracy, racketeering and murder charges that could send him away for the rest of his life.

Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez acknowledged directing or participating in more than 1,500 murders since 2008. That includes notorious killings two years ago of U.S. consulate workers as they left a birthday party in broad daylight. Leslie Enriquez and her husband were shot dead in their car while their 9-month-old daughter sat nearby. The husband of another U.S. employee was killed the same day in his vehicle.

Justice Department criminal division prosecutors say Acosta Hernandez used violence as a tool to protect lucrative markets for heroin, cocaine and marijuana in Texas and across the U.S. Court papers say the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other investigators used "cooperating witnesses, electronic interceptions" and Acosta Hernandez's own words to develop the case.

Update at 8:01 p.m. ET. Justice Department Statement:

The Justice Department said the case was a "significant step" in its effort to bring to justice those responsible for the consulate murders.

"We are determined to hold accountable those individuals who committed the consulate murders, and to dismantle the dangerous criminal enterprise that fueled these and many other tragic and senseless acts of violence." Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said.

Thursday's sentencing comes just days after another major cartel figure was sentenced.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit