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Mexico Releases Notorious Female Drug Trafficker Nicknamed 'Queen of the Pacific'

Sandra Avila Beltran was released from prison Saturday, the latest powerful organized crime figure to be freed by Mexican courts on a legal technicality.

by Meredith Hoffman
Feb 8 2015, 9:00pm

Photo via AP

Mexico's most notorious female drug trafficker, nicknamed the "Queen of the Pacific" for creating a cartel route along the country's west coast, was released from Mexican prison Saturday after winning a court appeal.

Sandra Avila Beltran, who was first arrested in 2007 and has spent time behind bars in both the US and Mexico, was cleared for release after a federal judge determined that she already served time for the money laundering charge that was keeping her detained.

She left a prison in Jalisco state Saturday night with her head covered to fend off photographers, and sped away in a white BMW escorted by friends driving a Mercedes-Benz and a Jeep Cherokee, El Universal reported. Mexico's Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam said the law forbids an appeal to the judge's ruling to free Beltran.

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Beltran's imprisonment both in Mexico and the US was based on the grounds that she gave money to her lover, former Colombian drug lord Jorge Diego Espinosa, a.k.a. the Tiger, to help him evade arrest. She was sentenced to 70 months of incarceration in the US in 2012 before she was extradited to Mexico, where she was sentenced to five years in jail in 2014, Reuters reported.

Beltran was born into an organized crime dynasty run by her powerful uncle Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, nicknamed "The Godfather." She allegedly helped build connections between Mexico's Sinaloa cartel and Colombia's Norte del Valle cartel in the 1990s.

She was accused previously of orchestrating a shipment of nine tons of US-bound cocaine seized off the coast of Mexico in 2001, but was acquitted by a Mexican judge, a ruling that prevented US prosecutors from charging her for the crime, the Associated Press reported. Beltran has maintained her innocence over the years.

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Mexico's extradition of Beltran was thought to be a sign that the government was finally cracking down on drug traffickers, but her release appeared to follow a pattern of liberating powerful organized crime figures.

Mexico's Supreme Court in 2013 released drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero from a Jalisco prison on the grounds that there had been a jurisdictional error in his trial for kidnapping and murdering a US Drug Enforcement Administration agent.

The release of Caro Quintero — who is also related to Beltran — triggered outrage in Washington. The Mexican court reversed its decision, issuing a warrant for his arrest. But before he could be recaptured, Caro Quintero is believed to have fled to an isolated region in the mountains of Sinaloa, where a number of other drug traffickers have successfully hidden for decades. 

Follow Meredith Hoffman on Twitter: @merhoffman