Infamous Mexican drug trafficker the "Queen of the Pacific" could soon find herself walking free, after receiving a 70-month prison sentence which will be reduced further thanks to time already served; an outcome that raises questions over the use of extradition and plea bargains for drug lords.
Sandra Avila Beltran received the sentence after pleading guilty to being "an accessory after the fact" by aiding her drug trafficking lover. She had previously denied all charges but later cut a deal with prosecutors, admitting the lesser charge in exchange for a sentence reduction.
Avila was arrested in 2007, and as her time already spent in prison is to be deducted, she has essentially already served her sentence and will now be processed and deported to Mexico, where she faces no outstanding charges and will remain free.
The sentencing ends a long-running legal saga, which has seen Avila acquitted of organized crime charges in Mexico and fight, and eventually lose, a convoluted legal struggle against extradition to the US.
Avila was accused of being a key link in the drug trafficking chain that connected Colombia's Norte del Valle Cartel and Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel. She was initially accused of conspiring with her boyfriend, Colombian trafficker Juan Diego Espinosa Ramirez, alias "El Tigre," to transport nine tons of cocaine.
InSight Crime Analysis
The tortured legal process in Avila's case highlights weaknesses in both the Mexican and the US legal systems. Within the country, Avila was able to defeat numerous attempts to convict her of serious charges, and came close to avoiding extradition. However, once in the United States, her cooperation with the authorities led to a minimal sentence for a person long linked to the upper echelons of Latin American organized crime.
The case also raises issues around extradition, which increased exponentially under Mexico's previous president, Felipe Calderon. As Avila's case demonstrates, the opportunity to cut a deal and receive short sentences in the United States means extradition often does not hold the same fear for drug traffickers as it did in the past. This has especially been the case in Colombia, where extradition has a long and polemical history but now appears to be viewed as a softer option by many drug traffickers, and has even been publically questioned by the government.