MEXICO CITY -- Sandra Avila Beltran, the so-called Queen of the Pacific, arrived in Mexico City on Tuesday, transported from the United States after serving time there for drug trafficking. She was being dispatched to another jail in central Mexico, authorities said.
A rare woman in the upper echelons of Mexican drug cartels, Avila still faces money-laundering and related charges in Mexico, according to her attorney.
Pictures of Avila, under a police escort at the airport, showed a woman far different from the sexy, vivacious one usually seen in older photos. Now 52, she looked much chubbier, and her hair was slightly graying.
Originally, federal authorities said she probably would be transported to a women’s prison in the state of Jalisco, where the money-laundering charges were filed. That, coincidentally, is the state where drug kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero walked out of prison this month after a court ordered his release on a questionable technicality. Caro Quintero, convicted of the 1985 killing of U.S. narcotics agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, had served 28 years of a 40-year sentence.
However, a spokesman for the attorney general's office later said Avila was being sent to a federal maximum-security women's prison in the neighboring state of Nayarit; the one in Jalisco is a medium-security state prison. Mexican media reported seeing two helicopters escorting a federal airplane taking Avila to Tepic, Nayarit.
Avila was arrested in Mexico in 2007 but acquitted of drug charges in a Mexican court. Last year, however, she was extradited to the United States. There, in a plea bargain, she admitted guilt to a lesser charge of aiding a drug-trafficking boyfriend and, last month, was sentenced to nearly six years in prison.
Almost immediately, a court ordered her release for time served.
Avila’s exploits, whether real or mythologized, made her the subject of movies, books and narcocorridos, or songs about flamboyant denizens of the drug trade.
“My story is completely detached from the power that they say I’ve had for a very long time,” she told El Universal newspaper after her 2007 arrest.
Authorities beg to differ. Two of her husbands were corrupt police officers killed after they joined drug-trafficking gangs, and she is the niece of one of Mexico’s giants in the cartel business.
Among more than 200 properties seized from Avila that were suspected of being used to launder money were several tanning salons in Jalisco that go by the name Electric Beach.
At one point, U.S. law enforcement officials accused Avila of being a key link between Colombian cartels producing cocaine and their Mexican counterparts who assumed control of nearly all transport of the drug to the United States.