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Will Mexico's alleged drug 'queen' return to jail?

July 29, 2013|By Richard Fausset and Cecilia Sanchez
  • Sandra Avila Beltran, dubbed the "Queen of the Pacific," smiles in a picture released by the Mexican attorney general's office after she was arrested by federal agents in 2007.
Sandra Avila Beltran, dubbed the "Queen of the Pacific," smiles… (Associated Press )

MEXICO CITY — Will Mexico’s so-called Queen of the Pacific — the woman accused, but never convicted, of being a Latin American drug kingpin — be going back to a Mexican prison after all?

Mexican federal prosecutors recently said they had “no legal proceedings open against her.” But that is the latest twist in the real-life telenovela of Sandra Avila Beltran, whose fame and notoriety rocketed after her arrest in Mexico City in 2007 on drug-trafficking charges.

A Mexican judge acquitted her in 2010. But she was extradited to the United States in August to face drug charges there.

In an agreement with U.S. prosecutors, Avila pleaded guilty to one charge of being an accessory to a crime, admitting that she helped her convicted drug-trafficker boyfriend hide from authorities. A Miami judge last week gave her credit for time served, freeing her of the need to do any more time behind bars in the U.S.

Avila is expected to return to Mexico any day now, and initially it appeared that she would return a free woman. A spokesman for the Mexican attorney general’s office told the Los Angeles Times last week that Avila faced no further legal proceedings.

At least one federal prosecutor reiterated that point in the Mexican press as well: According to a report Saturday in the newspaper La Jornada, Deputy Atty. Gen. Renan Cleominio Zoreda Novelo said that as far as Avila's fate in the Mexican justice system was concerned, “there was an investigation, and a conclusion of the proceedings, and this stage has concluded.”

On Monday, however, a Mexican attorney named Jorge Alfonso Espino Santillan, who was identified as Avila’s lawyer, told the news website Milenio that Avila would be apprehended upon her arrival in Mexico  because she faced an outstanding charge of “operating with illicit proceeds” in the country.

Espino could not be reached for comment Monday, and a spokesman for the attorney general’s office said he had no information about the charge. The Milenio report said the criminal case was being heard in a federal court in Jalisco state.

Avila, 52, drew the suspicion of investigators when her son was kidnapped in 2001 and she was able to pay a multimillion-dollar ransom to get him back.  The Mexican public became fascinated by her devil-may-care demeanor behind bars: At one point, she allegedly found a way to have a doctor give her Botox treatments while she was incarcerated.

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Sanchez is a news assistant in The Times' Mexico City bureau.

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