MEXICO CITY - After Laura Mojica Romero was crowned Miss Oaxaca in January 2019, she told Newsweek Mexico that she was “more than a pretty face.” Two years later, Mexican authorities alleged that beyond her good looks, she was also involved in kidnapping.
An anti-kidnapping unit in Veracruz state arrested eight members of the alleged criminal group last week, including the 25-year-old former beauty queen. In a statement, the state prosecutor's office alleged that the kidnapping ring operated in a rural area that spanned both Veracruz and neighboring Oaxaca, where Mojica was raised and twice won the right to represent the state in the Miss Mexico pageant.
Authorities said that the investigations into the kidnapping gang had been ongoing for two months. As recently as November 2020, Mojica posted photos of herself on Instagram wearing her Miss Mexico sash from her participation in last year’s International Queen of Coffee pageant in Colombia.
But the arrest of Mojica isn’t unprecedented in Mexico, where numerous beauty queens have found themselves involved in criminal activities over the years.
Perhaps the most high-profile case was the 2008 arrest of Laura Elena Zúñiga along with seven men, including her boyfriend, who allegedly were members of a prominent drug cartel. Authorities found the group with assault weapons, ammunition, 16 cell phones and a bundle of cash. At the time, Zúñiga was slated to represent Mexico at the Miss Universe pageant in 2009. Although she would eventually be cleared of the charges, Zúñiga was still stripped of her crown. The events inspired a popular movie in 2011 called Miss Bala, or Miss Bullet, about a beauty queen who falls into a life of crime, followed by a series of the same name in 2019.
While Zúñiga was eventually able to transition into a successful career as a model, other beauty queens connected to organized crime haven’t been so lucky.
In 2012, a beauty queen in Sinaloa named María Susana Flores Gámez died in a shootout between soldiers and alleged drug traffickers. Prosecutors claimed that her body was found next to an assault rifle but it was unclear if she had used the weapon herself. Two others in the group died and four people were detained along with drugs and weapons.
On Saturday, a Veracruz judge ruled that Mojica and the rest of the gang will be held without bail for two months as the prosecutor's office prepares the case against them. If found guilty, the judge said that they could spend the next 50 years behind bars.
In her interview with Newsweek Mexico in 2019, Mojica said that beauty pageants had inspired her to become involved in “campaigns of altruism, or social projects focused on reversing the deficiencies of our state.”
In December 2020 Veracruz and Oaxaca ranked second and third respectively in the number of kidnappings by state in Mexico, which is considered one of the countries with the highest rates of kidnapping globally.