Mexico beauty linked to alleged mobsters arrested
Pageant winner was found traveling with suspected drug gangsters
By DUDLEY ALTHAUS
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Dec. 24, 2008, 3:19PM
Laura Zuniga, crowned Miss Sinaloa 2008, told police she and the men were going to Colombia and Bolivia on "a shopping trip."
Share Print Email Del.icio.usDiggTechnoratiYahoo! BuzzMEXICO CITY — Will her beauty fade in an orange prison jumpsuit?
The question now hangs over Laura Zuniga, 23, who emerged this summer as the reigning beauty queen of Sinaloa, the Mexican Pacific Coast state known for its stunning women and vicious gangsters.
She won Miss Hispanic America 2008 in a November pageant in Bolivia, placed third in the Miss Mexico contest and was heading to a global competition in Asia next year.
But Zuniga is ending the year in police custody after being arrested late Monday traveling with seven alleged mobsters, including a boyfriend identified by federal police as a top member of the so-called Juarez Cartel.
Soldiers acting on a tip detained Zuniga and the seven men at a checkpoint as they cruised a Guadalajara suburb in two weapons-packed trucks.
Her father told reporters in Culiacan, the Sinaloa state capital, that Zuniga told him she was going to a Christmas party.
The jailed beauty queen told police the group was heading for Colombia and Bolivia on "a shopping trip."
Most cocaine smuggled through Mexico to U.S. consumers comes from Bolivia or Colombia.
Arrested along with Zuniga was Orlando Garcia Urquiza, whom Mexican federal police identified Tuesday as a top operator for the Carrillo Fuentes smuggling organization based in Ciudad Juarez, which borders El Paso.
"It seems this young woman was the gentleman's love interest," police commander Luis Carlos Najera told reporters in Guadalajara.
The soldiers seized two AR-15 assault rifles, .38-caliber specials, 9 mm handguns, nine magazines, 633 cartridges and $53,300 in U.S. currency, authorities said.
Garcia's brother, Ricardo, was identified as the Juarez Cartel's acting boss when he was arrested three years ago. Police said Ricardo Garcia, a former medical school student nicknamed "the Doctor," was responsible for smuggling up to 20 percent of the cocaine reaching the United States when arrested.
The Carrillo Fuentes organization, named after the family that has controlled it for nearly two decades, is now locked into a turf war in Juarez with Sinaloan gangsters led by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. The fighting has claimed nearly 1,400 lives in the city of 1.3 million people this year.
Jose Cruz Carrillo, the youngest brother of the family, went missing and is presumed dead after being arrested by Mexican soldiers, or men disguised as them, at his home outside Culiacan in October. Another brother was shot and killed in Culiacan in 2005.
Nuestra Belleza Mexico, the organization that conducts the beauty pageants that Zuniga won, said in a statement that it had no knowledge of her alleged gangland ties.
The organization said it would decide pending an investigation whether to let Zuniga keep her crown.
"Nuestra Belleza has been a serious, honest and transparent organization," the group's president, Lupita Jones, said in the statement sent to the media.
Police did not immediately disclose the charges Zuniga would face.
Whatever the circumstances and consequences of her arrest, Zuniga's latest challenge underscores the extent to which gangster culture has entered the mainstream of Sinaloa and other states where drug smuggling has become a way of life.
"This is a clear example of how organized crime has gotten into the very marrow of society in the whole country," wrote one of more than 200 anonymous commentators responding to Zuniga's arrest online in a Culiacan newspaper.
So many young women in Culiacan, Zuniga's hometown, have taken up with gangsters that they have become an instantly recognizable subculture at local shopping malls and fancy restaurants.
A recent article in Eme-Equis, a Mexico City magazine, snidely described the typical Sinaloa gangster consort — called a "buchona" in local slang — as a striking young woman who is overly coiffed and, overly dressed.
"Once seen, she is impossible to forget," the article said. "It is said she belongs to a (gangster) who pays for her every whim. She is part of his luggage, fulfills his erotic fantasies, is used by him to show off."
I read she was set free a few days ago, did not know topic was on here.