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Notorious Mexican Drug Boss Wins Release From U.S. Prison


An infamous drug trafficker is being released from a U.S. prison and could be deported as early as today, though this cartel kingpin is a rare queenpin. Sandra Avila Beltran is known as the queen of the Pacific. NPR's Carrie Kahn has more.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: When Avila Beltran was surrounded by dozens of federal agents at a Mexico City diner in 2007, lore has it she calmly asked to have a few minutes in the powder room to touch up her make-up before her arrest.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Spanish spoken)

SANDRA AVILA BELTRAN: Sandra Avila Beltran.

KAHN: Instead of the usual perp walks of gruff, handcuffed men hauled out in front of the media, the Mexican nightly news blasted this police interview, showing the perfectly coiffed brunette coolly answering questions, like what she did for a living.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Spanish spoken)

BELTRAN: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: With a slight head tilt, Avila Beltran coyly replied she was a homemaker who sometimes sold clothes and rented houses. Prosecutors say she sold much more. She was a key link between Colombian cocaine suppliers and Mexican drug traffickers. She ultimately took control of major shipping routes from South America to western Mexico ports, earning her the title Queen of the Pacific. But it was her love of luxury clothes, cosmetic surgery and the seduction of dangerous traffickers that inspired books, TV shows and this famous narco-ballad by the Tucanes de Tijuana.


TUCANES DE TIJUANA: (Singing in Spanish)

ANGELA GARCIA: She was huge. She was larger than life.

KAHN: And she became mythical, says Angela Garcia, an anthropologist at Stanford University who studies drug addiction and trafficking in Mexico. And Garcia says Avila Beltran flaunted her sexuality to climb to the top of the male drug trade.

GARCIA: And was really explicit about asserting her femininity in the world that had been - that still is - decidedly masculine.

KAHN: Avila Beltran was born into the drug trade. Her parents and grandparents were big names in trafficking. She was married twice to corrupt police commanders - both were murdered. And her long-time lover, known as The Tiger, was a reputed Colombian crime boss. She came to authorities' attention after putting up a $5 million ransom for the return of her kidnapped teenage soon. Anderson Cooper, reporting for "60 Minutes," caught up with her in a Mexican prison where she was serving five years on money laundering and drug charges.


ANDERSON COOPER: She denies the charges, but certainly seems to know a lot about drug trafficking.

BELTRAN: (Through translator) There are more and more people involved in drug trafficking now than ever before.

KAHN: With her perfectly shaped thick, dark eyebrows and long, flowing hair, Avila Beltran adamantly maintained her innocence. Unfortunately, two prison officials were later found guilty of allowing a clinician into her cell to keep up her Botox regime. The drug charges against her were ultimately dropped in Mexico, and she was extradited to the U.S. She took a deal and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and served 11 months in prison, says her defense lawyer, Stephen Ralls.

STEPHEN RALLS: She may have known drug traffickers is a different story. But that she herself ever having been involved in drug trafficking, she says she never has.

KAHN: Rawls says Avila Beltran completed her sentence last Saturday, and is anxious to get back home to Mexico and be with her family. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.