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Suspected Mexican drug 'queen' extradited to U.S.

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Fri August 10, 2012
 Sandra Avila Beltran, also known as the
Sandra Avila Beltran, also known as the "Queen of the Pacific."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The so-called "Queen of the Pacific" faces cocaine trafficking charges
  • Authorities have said she was a key link between Mexican and Colombian cartels
  • Her life is the subject of a ballad and a best-selling book
  • In 2011, accusations surfaced that she received a Botox treatment in prison

Mexico City (CNN) -- One of the most high-profile women accused of connections with Mexico's drug trade was extradited to the United States Thursday, officials said.

Mexican police handed over Sandra Avila Beltran, known as "The Queen of the Pacific," to U.S. marshals at an airport in central Mexico Thursday morning, Mexico's Attorney General's Office said in a statement.

She will face cocaine trafficking charges in a federal court in Florida, prosecutors said.

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Avila was once a key drug trafficking link between Colombia and Mexico, prosecutors have said. She was arrested in Mexico City on September 28, 2007, smiling before cameras as authorities trumpeted her detention.

Since then, her life has been the subject of a best-selling book and a popular ballad.

"The more beautiful the rose, the sharper the thorns," says one line in "The Queen of Queens," Los Tigres del Norte's song describing Avila.

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Her eye-catching nickname has regularly made headlines as Mexico's case against her made its way through the nation's courts.

A judge convicted her on money laundering charges, but ruled that Mexican prosecutors didn't provide enough evidence to convict her of drug trafficking.

In 2011, authorities in Mexico City said they were investigating a tip that prison medical personnel had allowed a doctor to give Avila a Botox injection.

Avila denied that accusation, Mexico's state-run Notimex news agency reported.

For more than two years, Avila has tried to block a U.S. extradition request. A Mexican judge ruled that she could be extradited in June.

A 2008 U.S. Congressional Research Service report described Avila as "a senior member of the Sinaloa cartel who was instrumental" in building ties with Colombian traffickers.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Avila was suspected of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States along with Juan Diego Espinosa, a Colombian national who was also known as "The Tiger."

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The DEA said that in November 2001, Espinosa, Avila and others "allegedly arranged the shipment of cocaine from Colombia to the United States by ship." The ship, loaded with 9,291 kilograms of cocaine, was boarded by U.S. agents near Manzanillo, on Mexico's Pacific coast.

U.S. authorities extradited Espinosa from Mexico in 2008. A judge sentenced him to six years in prison after he pleaded guilty to a cocaine distribution conspiracy charge in 2009. A court document signed as part of the plea agreement said that he and Avila had taken part in a deal to distribute 100 kilograms of cocaine in Chicago.

In the United States, Avila faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if she is convicted of charges of conspiracy to import and sell cocaine, according to a 2004 indictment filed in U.S. district court.

In a 2009 interview with Anderson Cooper that aired on "60 Minutes" and CNN, Avila denied the charges against her, and blamed Mexico's government for allowing drug trafficking to flourish.

"In Mexico there's a lot of corruption, A lot. Large shipments of drugs can come into the Mexican ports or airports without the authorities knowing about it. It's obvious and logical. The government has to be involved in everything that is corrupt," she said.

CNN's Rafael Romo and CNNMexico.com contributed to this report.

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