updated 4/29/2008 3:13:58 PM ET 2008-04-29T19:13:58

A retired Mexican state police commander who led a secret life as a drug boss was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday on federal drug trafficking, money laundering and conspiracy charges.

Carlos Landin Martinez, reportedly the No. 2 man in Reynosa, Mexico, for the notorious Gulf drug cartel, was convicted on nine counts in January. Nicknamed "El Puma," the paunchy, droopy-eyed Landin said nothing when his sentence was read.

Landin maintains his innocence and will appeal, said his attorney Eric Jarvis, who called the case against his client "purely circumstantial."

Landin was arrested last year after an off-duty Drug Enforcement Administration agent spotted him buying watermelon in a McAllen supermarket. The agency had been building a case against Landin for two years.

Prosecutors said traffickers wanting to use lucrative smuggling routes across the border into South Texas had to pay Landin a "piso," or tax, to move drugs in cartel territory.

Drugs came across on people, on rafts and through a tunnel that opened up through a manhole in Hidalgo, Texas. The proceeds from drug sales all over the country were then smuggled back into Mexico.

Many of the government's witnesses were also charged and were seeking leniency in their sentences, leading Landin's attorneys to question their credibility.

Charges are pending against Landin in another drug-trafficking case that could go to trial as early as next week.

He's also fighting the government in court over its seizure of jewelry alleged to have been purchased with drug money. One piece, a $12,400 gold pendant Landin was wearing when he was arrested, is studded with diamonds, emeralds and a ruby; it depicts St. Jude.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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