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'Queen of cocaine' expresses regret

By Rafael Romo, Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
updated 2:20 PM EST, Tue November 22, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Angie Sanclemente Valencia contends she is innocent
  • The Colombian native was sentenced for drug trafficking
  • She was once an internationally acclaimed model

(CNN) -- From her very humble beginnings in Barranquilla, Colombia, she rose to be one of her country's most coveted beauty queens. At 21, Angie Sanclemente Valencia was crowned as Colombia's "Queen of Coffee."

It was 2000 and the beginning of a career that would propel Sanclemente into the world of her dreams as an internationally acclaimed model. After winning the Colombian pageant, she quickly found work as a lingerie model in Mexico and other countries. She also started training as an actress and took theater lessons.

But Sanclemente's career came to a screeching halt in May of 2010 when she was arrested in Argentina and charged with drug trafficking.

Interpol had issued an arrest warrant against her in December of the previous year after she was connected to a 21-year-old woman who was arrested just before she was to board a flight to Cancun, Mexico, from Buenos Aires carrying 55 kilograms of cocaine (120 pounds). The fallen beauty was on the run for five months, hiding in Argentina.

While on the run, Sanclemente continued to update her Facebook page. In a Facebook message to CNN in 2010, she denied any involvement in the case, writing, "I'm very sad and hurt by the bad information. I don't know how the press can destroy an innocent person."

After being convicted in early November, Sanclemente is speaking from prison for the first time. It's quite a change from the life of glamor she lived before her arrest.

"I have been here [in prison] one year and seven months. I'm innocent of all of the accusations. It was all a big misunderstanding," Sanclemente said.

Her 2010 arrest was an international scandal and her Interpol mugshot made headlines around the world. The former queen of coffee became known as "the queen of cocaine." Four men and two other women were also arrested in connection with the case.

Argentinian authorities charged her with leading a ring of fashion models to smuggle cocaine from South America and into Europe, via Cancun. She says her Argentinian boyfriend and his uncle, who are also in prison, were indeed involved in drug trafficking, but not her.

"It may sound ridiculous and incredible, but I'm innocent of this farce they invented. My boyfriend made a mistake, and I'm paying the consequences. But I love him and I love him because he loves me just the way I am. I never found in anybody else what I found in him," Sanclemente said.

Now 32 and sentenced to six years and eight months behind bars, the promising career she once had seems like a vanished dream. Nicolas Gualco, her boyfriend, and Daniel Monroy, Gualco's uncle, have also received the same sentence.

Moving to Argentina from Mexico, Sanclemente says in retrospect, was a big mistake. "I regret having taken the flight to Argentina, to be honest with you."

Sanclemente had expressed regret once before about making the wrong choices. She was dethroned as Colombia's queen of coffee for breaking the rules by having been married. Reports say that she was once married to a Mexican drug trafficker, but she's always denied that was the case.

In an interview shortly after being dethroned, she spoke about the consequences of not listening to the woman who raised her as single mother. "I'm very capricious and a lot of [bad] things have happened to me for not listening to my mother," Sanclemente says. Her words now seem prophetic.

Journalist Jose Manuel Rodriguez in Buenos Aires contributed to this report

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