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Alleged Mexican drug 'queen' sentenced in U.S., but will soon be free

July 25, 2013|By Richard Fausset
  • Sandra Avila Beltran, known as the "Queen of the Pacific," is seen in a photo taken after her 2007 arrest in Mexico City.
Sandra Avila Beltran, known as the "Queen of the Pacific," is… (Mexican attorney general's…)

MEXICO CITY — Sandra Avila Beltran, the Mexican "Queen of the Pacific" who gained notoriety  after authorities accused her of being a rare female force in the illicit drug trade, will be returning to Mexico as a free woman soon after a judge in Miami on Thursday gave her a 70-month prison sentence that she has already largely fulfilled because of time served.

Avila, 52, was arrested in 2007 in Mexico City with her Colombian boyfriend, Juan Diego Espinoza Ramirez, who pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficking charges two years later. A Mexican judge acquitted Avila of drug-related charges in 2010, but she was extradited to the United States to face charges that she conspired to import more than 11 pounds of cocaine into the U.S.

Officials alleged Avila was an important link between Colombian cocaine suppliers and Mexican drug groups. It is rare for a woman to face such charges, and this fact, in addition to her glamour, vanity and smiling insouciance — she once had a doctor visit her in prison to give her Botox treatments — turned her into a kind of drug war folk figure. She was interviewed by CNN's Anderson Cooper, and the Mexican musical group Los Tucanes de Tijuana wrote a well-known narcocorrido about her.

Avila has always claimed she was an innocent homemaker. In a plea agreement with prosecutors in April, the drug charges were dropped, and Avila admitted to an accessory charge for helping to hide her boyfriend from authorities, according to Avila’s U.S. attorney, Stephen J. Ralls.

Ralls, in a phone interview Thursday, said that U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore, in sentencing Avila, also gave her credit for time served while in custody in Mexico and the U.S. She was still behind bars Thursday evening, but Ralls said it is probably just a matter of days before she is freed.

Ralls said that U.S. officials would probably send her back to Mexico soon, where she is not facing any further charges. Alberto Islas, a spokesman for the Mexican attorney general, said that his office “has no order of apprehension against Sandra Avila, nor is there any inquest open against her.”

Authorities first became suspicious of Avila in 2001 after her son was kidnapped and she was reportedly able to pay a multimillion-dollar ransom to get him back.

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Cecilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.

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