Mexican cartel queen pleads guilty in U.S. drug case

Gavel trial

(CNN) — They call her the Queen of the Pacific.

Sandra Avila Beltran’s name stands out on the list of accused leaders of Mexico’s male-dominated drug trade.

The 52-year-old’s life is the subject of a best-selling book and a popular ballad.

And she made headlines two years ago when Mexican authorities said they were investigating a tip that she had received Botox treatments in prison.

This week Avila — one of the most well-known women accused of ties with Mexico’s drug trade — pleaded guilty in a Florida court to a charge connected to a cocaine trafficking case.

She faces up to 15 years in U.S. prison after pleading guilty to being an accessory after the fact, according to an agreement filed in federal court this week. A sentencing hearing in the case is scheduled for July 25.

“It is a fair resolution in light of the actual circumstances. … she is happy with the results and hopes to be able to reunite with her family soon,” attorney Stephen Ralls told Mexico’s state-run Notimex news agency.

Avila was first arrested in Mexico City on September 28, 2007, smiling before cameras as authorities trumpeted her detention. Mexico’s case against her drew widespread attention as it made its way through the nation’s courts.

In 2011, authorities in Mexico City said they were investigating a tip that prison medical personnel had allowed a doctor to give Avila a Botox injection, an accusation that Avila denied, according to Notimex.

Authorities extradited her last year to the United States, where she was accused of conspiring to smuggle cocaine along with Juan Diego Espinosa Ramirez, a Colombian national who was also known as “The Tiger.”

Avila denied the charges. And despite the high-profile accusations against her, authorities have not convicted Avila of any drug-trafficking crimes.

A Mexican judge convicted her on money laundering charges but ruled that Mexican prosecutors hadn’t provided enough evidence to convict her of drug trafficking.

And U.S. prosecutors dropped the cocaine trafficking conspiracy charge against her as part of this week’s plea deal. A document signed by Avila as part of the plea agreement in U.S. federal court says she provided “financial assistance for travel, lodging and other expenses” to Espinosa from 2002 to 2004 “with the intention of preventing or hindering his arrest for his drug trafficking crimes.”

Prosecutors have said Avila was once a key drug trafficking link between Colombia and Mexico. And a 2008 U.S. Congressional Research Service report described her as “a senior member of the Sinaloa cartel who was instrumental” in building ties with Colombian traffickers.

A popular ballad about her sung by the band Los Tigres del Norte, titled “The Queen of Queens,” describes her 2007 arrest alongside Espinosa.

“The more beautiful the rose,” one line in the song says, “the sharper the thorns.”

A U.S. judge sentenced Espinosa to six years in prison after he pleaded guilty to a cocaine distribution conspiracy charge in 2009.

In an interview with Anderson Cooper that aired on “60 Minutes” and CNN that year, Avila denied the charges against her and blamed Mexico’s government for allowing drug trafficking to flourish.

“In Mexico there’s a lot of corruption, a lot. Large shipments of drugs can come into the Mexican ports or airports without the authorities knowing about it. It’s obvious and logical,” she said. “The government has to be involved in everything that is corrupt.”

CNN’s Rafael Romo and Michelle Hall contributed to this report.

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