She told the cops she was just an innocent housewife who dabbled a little in the rental market.
She had her own narcocorrido, or drug ballad, sung by an outfit called Los Tucanes de Tijuana.
And when she was fighting her extradition to the U.S. on cocaine trafficking charges, Sandra Avila Beltran, the so-called Reina del Pacifico, or Queen of the Pacific, found a way to have a doctor visit her in prison to administer her Botox treatments, a characteristic demonstration of vanity that has made her such an enthralling folk figure to so many Mexicans here. The episode also pointed to the often-squirrelly security standards in the Mexican penal system.
But from now on, Avila -- Mexico’s high-heeled human telenovela -- will be a drama for the United States to ponder: On Thursday, the Mexican attorney general announced that she has been extradited to the U.S.
Avila is believed to have been a rare figure -- a powerful woman -- in Latin America’s testosterone-saturated drug world, and her story has become a kind of genre to itself, particularly with the success of “La Reina del Sur,” the wildly popular Telemundo telenovela to which Avila’s life is sometimes compared. (In the U.S., the Showtime cable network has had similar success with "Weeds," a tragicomic tale of the life of the fictional Nancy Botwin, a weed-dealing, Starbucks-slurping soccer mom.)
Avila, reportedly in her early 50s, was arrested in 2007 in Mexico City with her Colombian boyfriend, Juan Diego Espinoza Ramirez, whom officials claimed was also a powerful drug-world figure. Officials allegedthat Avila served as a key connection between Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel and wholesale drug sources in Colombia.
A Mexican judge acquitted Avila of drug-related charges in 2010, and she waged a long legal fight against extradition. On Thursday, Mexican officials turned her over to U.S. marshals at Toluca International Airport. She is expected to appear in U.S. Federal District Court in Florida to answer allegations that she coordinated, stored and moved large drug shipments destined for the U.S.
Avila was reportedly the product of well-established drug-world families, and Mexican journalists alleged that her affairs with powerful male drug kingpins helped her rise to a position of power. According to the Associated Press, authorities became suspicious of her in 2001 when her son was kidnapped and she was allegedly able to pay a multimillion-dollar ransom to get him back.
Video of Avila being escorted by officers once she was in custody -- with a pair of chic torn jeans, stylish raven hair and a devil-may-care grin -- only fueled public fascination with her. Authorities eventually seized 225 of Avila’s properties in the state of Jalisco, including two tanning salons.
In their corrido, Los Tucanes called her “that big businesswoman -- a very heavy lady.”
-- Richard Fausset
Photo: Sandra Avila Beltran, shown in 2007, has been extradited to the U.S. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency