Mexico: "Queen of the Pacific" Sprung from Prison

Published: 09 February 2015

Sandra Avila Beltran

By Igor Spaic

A federal judge in Mexico has thrown out the prison sentence of a Mexican drug smuggler known as the "Queen of the Pacific" and ordered her released.

Sandra Avila Beltran was freed on Saturday. The highest-profile woman in the Mexican drug world, she is the niece of Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, called "the Godfather" of the trade, who is serving a 40-year sentence on drug and murder convictions. Beltran had begun a five-year sentence in 2014.

Thought to have spent more than 10 years working her way up the echelons of the Mexican drug trade, Beltran was first arrested in a Mexico City diner in 2007 and charged with organized crime and drug trafficking. Those charges were later reduced to illegal possession of firearms and money laundering.

While she was jailed in Mexico on those charges, US authorities accused her of smuggling cocaine with drug lord Juan Diego Espinoza Ramirez, nicknamed "The Tiger". She was extradited to the US in 2012. As part of a plea deal, US authorities dropped cocaine trafficking charges and, a year later, she pleaded guilty only to helping Espinoza avoid arrest by providing him with financial assistance. Ramirez pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges in 2009, after being extradited to the US. According to CNN, he recieved a six-year prison sentence.

In 2013, Beltran was deported to Mexico to face money laundering charges, once again connected to the case of Espinoza. In 2014, Mexican authorities sentenced her to five years. However, she appealed the decision, claiming she had already served a sentence for the same crime in the US, and thus could not go to prison for it twice. This led to the federal judge's decision on Saturday.

Prosecutors say Beltran worked with Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman to help establish the Sinaloa cartel during the 1990s, and that her romantic relationship with Espinoza, who is Colombian, led to cooperation between the Sinaloa clan and Colombia's Norte del Valle cartel. Her nickname came from her success in establishing drug routes from Mexico's Pacific Coast into California.