The so-called Queen of the Pacific, Sandra Avila Beltrán, smiled widely in Miami federal court Thursday after a federal judge essentially sentenced her to time served, three months after she pleaded guilty to helping her ex-boyfriend, a Colombian drug kingpin, evade justice.
The sentence means that in perhaps less than a month, Avila, 52, may be released from federal prison and deported back to her native Mexico, according to one of her two attorneys, Howard J. Schumacher.
During a 30-minute hearing at the downtown courthouse, U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore sentenced Avila to 70 months in prison plus one year of supervised release. But he also said that he was granting her “credit for time served,” a period that roughly equals the amount of time she has been held in custody by Mexican and then American authorities.
Though her supervised release would begin as soon as she is freed from custody, Schumacher said immigration authorities would likely put her on a plane to Mexico soon rather than keep her in an immigrant detention center awaiting deportation for a year.
When Moore asked if she had something to say before he pronounced sentence, Avila replied in a clear voice: “No, your honor, thank you.” She also said that she would not appeal the sentence.
The sentencing closed one of the most significant chapters in the Avila case, which drew worldwide attention after she was arrested in 2007 and extradited to Miami in August 2012.
The fascination with the case stemmed from Avila’s status as a dark-haired Mexican beauty dubbed the “Queen of the Pacific,’’ because of allegations she played a significant role in the Sinaloa drug-trafficking cartel. Sinaloa is a Mexican state that faces the Pacific Ocean.
In April, Avila admitted helping her former boyfriend, ex- Colombian cartel boss Juan Diego Espinosa Ramirez, evade prosecution on cocaine-smuggling charges. She formally pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact.
She had faced as many as 15 years in the penitentiary, but was expected to receive a lesser sentence.
In court Thursday, Avila appeared happy but did not resemble the published pictures that evoke the face of a movie or telenovela star. Her almost waist-long dark hair is now white on top, her face thin. She was dressed in a khaki-colored prison jump suit.
After the sentencing, Avila beamed at two young women in the front row of the courtroom and crossed both arms over her chest, saying to them in Spanish “te quiero” (I love you).
Schumacher and Avila’s second attorney, Stephen Ralls, identified the women as relatives; outside the courthouse one of the women said she was Avila’s niece. But neither woman provided her name. The woman who identified herself as a niece simply said: “I am very happy.”
“It was a fair resolution of the matter,” Schumacher said after Moore handed down the sentence and credited Avila for time served.
After the judge left the courtroom and before U.S. marshals took her back to prison, Avila touched Ralls’ arm and told him: “God bless you.”
Though the attorneys said they did not know of any pending charges in Mexico, they indicated that they could not predict what Mexican authorities will do once she returns.
Schumacher said Avila was anxious to rejoin her family in Mexico, not only because her case in the United States was over, but because her mother is ill.
A sentencing memorandum prepared for Moore by Schumacher and Ralls said Avila’s mother, who is 70, has cancer and is being treated with radiation for brain and lung tumors.
Avila’s legal saga stemmed from an indictment in Miami in June 2002 charging Espinosa Ramirez with drug trafficking. A document in the case said investigators identified other people involved in Espinosa Ramirez’s drug trafficking enterprise, including Avila.