Sandra Ávila Beltrán, known as "The Queen of the Pacific," leaves prison
A judge ruled in favor of her appeal last week
She has been accused of drug trafficking but never convicted
In Mexico’s male-dominated drug trade, her life story became a legend.
Now, after more than seven years behind bars, the woman known as “The Queen of the Pacific” is free. A judge ruled in favor of her appeal last week, Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office said in a statement Saturday.
Sandra Ávila Beltrán’s story is the subject of a best-selling book and a popular ballad.
She was first arrested in Mexico City on September 28, 2007, smiling before cameras as authorities trumpeted her detention.
Later, Ávila made headlines when Mexican authorities said they were investigating a tip that she had received Botox treatments in prison.
Ávila is the niece of Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, founder of the now-defunct Guadalajara cartel. She’s also related to drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, who was released from a Mexican prison in a controversial 2013 decision and now has a $5 million State Department bounty on his head.
Trials on both sides of the border
Mexico’s case against her drew widespread attention as it made its way through the nation’s courts. She was absolved of a money laundering charge in her first trial.
In 2012, authorities extradited her to the United States, where she was accused of conspiring to smuggle cocaine along with Juan Diego Espinosa Ramirez, a Colombian national who was also known as “The Tiger.”
Ávila denied the charges. Authorities never convicted her of any drug-trafficking crimes, but prosecutors have said Ávila was once a key link in the drug trade between Colombia and Mexico. A 2008 U.S. congressional Research Service report described her as “a senior member of the Sinaloa cartel who was instrumental” in building ties with Colombian traffickers.
In 2013, she pleaded guilty in a Florida court to a charge connected to the case, but U.S. prosecutors dropped the cocaine trafficking conspiracy charge.
And U.S. prosecutors dropped the cocaine trafficking conspiracy charge against her as part of this week’s plea deal. A document signed by Avila as part of the plea agreement in U.S. federal court says she provided “financial assistance for travel, lodging and other expenses” to Espinosa from 2002 to 2004 “with the intention of preventing or hindering his arrest for his drug trafficking crimes.”
Later that year, she was deported back to Mexico. Last year, she was sentenced to five more years in prison and a fine for money laundering.
But on Friday, a judge ruled that the conviction was not valid because she’d already been tried for the same crime in Mexico and the United States, Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office said.
’Queen of queens’
A popular ballad about her sung by the band Los Tigres del Norte, titled “The Queen of Queens,” describes her 2007 arrest alongside Espinosa.
“The more beautiful the rose,” one line in the song says, “the sharper the thorns.”
In an interview with Anderson Cooper that aired on “60 Minutes” and CNN that year, 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,” she said. “The government has to be involved in everything that is corrupt.”
CNN’s Claudia Dominguez contributed to this report.