MEXICO CITY — In Mexico, she was known as “La Comadre,” “La Madrina,” and “La Doña”—words that all refer, loosely, to a big female boss in Spanish.
Some of her associates also called her Jenca—a name that she stamped into some of the cocaine kilos that she trafficked into the U.S.
This week, Luz Irene Fajardo Campos was sentenced to 22 years in prison in the U.S. for running an international drug-trafficking network with her adult sons, sourcing cocaine in Colombia and importing precursor chemicals into Mexico, to then traffic cocaine and meth into the U.S., according to U.S. prosecutors.
Court documents show pictures of kilos cocaine, packaged with the letters JENCA embossed on the front.
Her case runs contrary to the trend of women in the drug business, and is a nod to their growing power and autonomy in the international narcotics trade. Historically, the understanding of women in the drug trade is largely limited to that of narco wives or girlfriends, sexualized or novelty killers, or victims co-opted into being drug mules or trafficked.
“Just as the role of women is growing in legitimate businesses as women have demonstrated they are every bit as capable as men if not moreso, the same trend is occurring in the drug world,” said Bonnie Klapper, a criminal lawyer who has represented a number of high-profile female drug traffickers.
During Fajardo’s sentencing in Washington on July 27, officials said they had “cut the head off of the snake.”
“Drug traffickers like Fajardo Campos tear at the very fabric of our communities. She made millions of dollars from pushing thousands of pounds of poison into American communities while at the same time fueling violence and crime across the United States. Today, justice was served,” said Cheri Oz of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Phoenix Field Division.
But Fajardo, who was arrested at the international airport in Bogota, Colombia in April 2017 before being sent to the United States, paid a higher price than just prison time for her drug-trafficking activities.
After her arrest, her two adult sons were murdered in Hermosillo, Sonora, which is the neighboring state to Sinaloa. Both men—whose surnames were Aviles Fajardo but whose first names remain unknown—were abducted and their bodies found dismembered and burned in a vehicle, according to two sources familiar with the case who spoke to VICE World News on condition of anonymity.
Since she entered custody, Fajardo’s mental health has deteriorated, according to court documents. It’s not clear whether her psychological health is related to the murder of her sons, which could have been a warning from the Sinaloa Cartel following her detention not to collaborate with U.S prosecutors on investigations into other major Mexican drug traffickers.
If it was a warning, it worked. Fajardo pleaded not guilty and went to trial.
“Luz sacrificed herself by going to trial because of what happened to her children,” her defense lawyer Robert Feitel told VICE World News.
“It was like a Greek tragedy.”
Fajardo’s parents and siblings continue to live in Sinaloa.
“Who is going to see two of their kids kidnapped and murdered and then do anything to put the rest of their family at risk? Nobody is going to do that,” said Feitel.
Although Guzmán is now in a U.S. jail serving a life sentence, business for the Sinaloa Cartel continues to boom. Others on the charge sheet that sent Guzmán down remain at large, including Guzmán’s cartel co-founder Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada—who has never set foot inside a jail cell—and Guzmán’s son, Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar, also known as “Alfredillo,” as well as other sons of his active in the drug trade.
U.S. prosecutors remain keen to net those major targets and others. All arrests of drug traffickers with connections to them have the potential to provide promising leads and evidence towards their cases.
Born in the rural town of Cosala, close to Mexico’s famous Golden Triangle region where the cultivation of marijuana and heroin poppy is a way of life for communities, Fajardo was raised around the drug trade. She trained as a lawyer, but later moved into the narcotics business.
She was connected from Colombia through Panama and Ecuador all the way to Mexico, according to the indictment against her. In between running small planes carrying kilos of cocaine from Honduras into Mexico and helping drivers—unsuccessfully—to avoid capture by the Drug Enforcement Administration in Tucson, Arizona, she chatted with her criminal associates about her children and grandchildren.
During one exchange gathered by U.S law enforcement dated April 21, 2015, Fajardo and an associate called Angel exchange messages over a picture of Fajardo with her granddaughter.
“Is that you in the pictures?” asked Angel.
“Yes, how embarrassing. I’m sorry!!!” replied Fajardo.
But Angel reassured her. “I was saying it’s a pretty pic. I already deleted though don’t worry.” Perhaps not soon enough.
Another major yet virtually unknown female drug boss to recently face justice in the U.S was Guadalupe Fernandez Valencia, or “la Patrona.” She pleaded guilty to money laundering and drug trafficking charges, working for Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, in 2019. Her case is one of many examples of more women in the higher echelons of Latin America’s organized crime world.
“Women are just as powerful and just as diabolical and just as organized as men. And at some level women are underestimated by people in society,” said Feitel.
“[Fajardo] was no different from any other trafficker except that she happened to be female,” said Klapper.
“Many male traffickers actually prefer to deal with a serious woman as they believe she will be more responsible, less likely to consume the product and more trustworthy as she may be more concerned for the safety of her children.”