Jalisco authorities have released another high-profile criminal on a legal technicality. Sandra Avila Beltran, better known as the “Queen of the Pacific,” has been set free after a judge ruled that she had already served time for the five-year sentence that was keeping her behind bars.
Avila was arrested in 2007 sipping coffee in a Mexico City restaurant with her Colombian drug-dealer boyfriend, Juan Diego Espinosa Ramirez, known as “the Tiger.” The couple allegedly tried to ferry nine tons of cocaine up Mexico’s Pacific coast into California.
These charges were later dropped but she was eventually convicted of possession of an illegal firearm and money-laundering. Avila was extradited to the United States, before returning to Mexico in 2013. She sped away from prison in Guadalajara in a white BMW with her head covered in a coat. The Attorney General’s Office said that the law forbids an appeal to the judgement.
Avila is the niece of Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, alias “The Godfather,” who is serving a 40-year prison sentence for the murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena in 1985. Prosecutors claim that Avila was a key figure in the formation of the Sinaloa Federation in the 1990’s. They allege that her romance with Espinosa Ramirez deepened ties between Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa cartel and Colombia’s Norte del Valle cartel.
As a female with links to drug cartels, Avila has captured the attention of the world’s media. Newsweek magazine referred to her as Mexico’s “Underworld Queenpin,” while ABC called her the “Glamorous Gangster.”
Avila is the most famous of a series of women who the press has identified as major players in the drug world. Enedina Arellano Felix hit headlines in 2000 when she became leader of the Tijuana Cartel, while more recently, Kim Kardashian look-a-like Claudia Ochoa Felix was singled out as the head of a squad of contract killers, an allegation she denies.
Even behind bars, international interest in Avila did not subside. She hit headlines in 2011 when reports emerged that a doctor had entered the prison to give her Botox injections, a treatment not permitted for inmates.
In Mexico, she has acquired iconic status and inspired several narcocorridos (drug ballads) as well as a popular television soap-opera. Yet the “Queen of the Pacific” has always maintained her innocence, saying she made her fortune selling clothes and renting property.
Avila’s release follows the 2013 liberation of drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, a distant relative of hers. The Mexican Supreme Court ruled that Caro was improperly tried and set him free, before issuing another arrest warrant under pressure from Washington. So far, Caro has evaded recapture.