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‘Queen of the Pacific’ freed from US prison

July 26, 2013

Alleged drug boss Sandra Avila Beltran, known as “La Reina del Pacifico,” could return to Guadalajara within the next few days after being freed by a federal judge in the United States.

Avila, 52, was sentenced to 70 months in prison in Miami on Thursday, but is already eligible for release having served more than five years in a Mexican prison prior to being extradited last year.

Avila was arrested in Mexico City in 2007, alongside former Colombian boyfriend Juan Diego Espinosa Ramirez, for allegedly trying to ferry nine tons of cocaine up Mexico’s Pacific coast into California. Mexican prosecutors alleged that Avila played a major part in the formation of the Sinaloa Federation in the 1990s, while Espinosa, alias “El Tigre,” is believed to have been responsible for managing the Sinaloa Federation’s trafficking arrangements with Colombia’s Norte del Valle cartel.

Born into narco royalty, Avila is a relative of Rafael Caro Quintero and the niece of Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, both former heads of the now-defunct Guadalajara Cartel. The latter, known as “The Godfather,” was the founder of the cartel and is currently serving a 40-year sentence for the murder of Enrique Camarena, a DEA Agent who in 1985 was kidnapped on the streets of Guadalajara and later found dead in Michoacan.

Avila, who reportedly owns several beauty salons in Guadalajara and used to divide her time between homes in Guadalajara and Hermosillo, Sonora, first drew the suspicion of investigators when her son was kidnapped in 2001 and she was able to pay a multimillion-dollar ransom for his return. Despite achieving iconic status as one of few powerful female figures in Mexico’s macho world of organized crime – she has even been feted in narcocorridos (drug ballads) by high-profile bands such as Los Tucanes de Tijuana – Avila has always maintained her innocence, claiming she made her fortune by selling clothes and renting real estate.

Prior to her trial in Miami, Avila was acquitted of organized crime charges in Mexico, with the federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) failing to prove that she had links to the Sinaloa Federation or that she was responsible for receiving shipments of cocaine arriving in Mexico. The only charge that stuck was for illegal possession of a firearm found at one of Avila’s homes in Jalisco, for which she served one year in prison while awaiting extradition to the United States.

Once extradited, a deal with the prosecution ensured that Avila faced reduced charges of aiding Espinosa to evade justice. Following the sentencing, she could be deported as early as this week and is expected to move back to Guadalajara with her family.

At first it was reported that there were no outstanding warrants against Avila in Mexico, but on Monday her lawyer Jorge Alfonso Espino Santillan told Spanish-language daily Milenio that she could yet be apprehended upon re-entering the country as she still faces money-laundering charges in Jalisco.

Avila stands accused of using illicit funds to pay for two life insurance policies, each worth around four million pesos, Espino said. He also revealed that he has filed a complaint against the PGR for not returning six legally purchased properties that were seized from his client when she was first arrested: three in Mexico City, two in Sonora and one in Jalisco.

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