Soon after, her teenage son was kidnapped in Guadalajara. Although she contacted authorities, she negotiated his release by paying a $5 million ransom.
By 2004, she was facing indictment in Miami along with several other members of the Espinosa family, court records show.
Three years later, authorities would finally arrest her at a Mexico City restaurant while she was having coffee. She reportedly asked them to let her freshen her makeup. A videotape showed her smiling and strutting in tight jeans and spiked heels. Her boyfriend, Espinosa, also was arrested in 2007.
While in custody, Avila told investigators that she was a housewife who made money selling clothes and houses.
In 2009, while battling extradition to the United States, Avila gave an interview to journalist Anderson Cooper for the news show, 60 Minutes, in which she blamed the Mexican government for allowing the drug trade to flourish.
Its obvious and logical, she said. The government has to be involved in everything that is corrupt.
The following year, both she and Espinosa were acquitted of drug-trafficking charges stemming from the Manzanillo seizure, after a Mexican judge found a lack of evidence.
Mexicans, along with the media, have long been fascinated with Avila, following details of her taste for high fashion, gourmet food and beauty secrets. One rumor that made the rounds: A doctor visited her while she was jailed in Mexico to administer her Botox injections.
Much of the fascination with Avila is because of her sex. For decades, narco-trafficking has been dominated by macho men, but experts say women have always played a key role in Mexican drug organizations.
Last year, the Mexican media reported that Enedina Arellano Felix had become the countrys first female cartel leader by taking charge of the Tijuana syndicate. That phenomenon has also influenced popular culture. In the latest Oliver Stone movie, Savages, glamorous Mexican actress Salma Hayek played a ruthless female drug lord.
Avila could easily have been her inspiration. A journalist, Ricardo Ravelo, once described Avila this way to the newspaper Cronica de Mexico: She is a protagonist, violent, manipulative, dictatorial, a braggart, with an active social life, a lover of parties, jewelry and all of [lifes] pleasures.
Those days are long gone. The reputed queenpin, now held in a detention cell in downtown Miami, faces the prospect of many years in U.S. prison.
Information from The Observer was used to supplement this story.