Mexican drug lords may be importing more than cocaine from the Andean region. It looks as if they're also bringing in beauty queens and models as girlfriends.
The latest case may be that of Juliana Sossa, the winner of a 2008 Colombian beauty pageant, who was arrested Tuesday alongside a man who's accused of leading a drug gang.
Sossa, 25, wore a bulky black parka and loose blue jeans when police took her on a perp walk, a far cry from the revealing swimwear that she dons in publicity videos posted on YouTube.
Police said Sossa unwittingly helped them track down Jorge Balderas Garza, who's known by the nickname "El J.J." and is suspected of leading a drug gang, when she wrote on her Facebook page that she lives in the Bosques de Chapultepec neighborhood of Mexico City. Police said they knew Sossa was the alleged drug lord's girlfriend.
"I like modeling and I've participated in contests like Antioquia 2008 and others that are less well known," Sossa wrote on her Facebook page, adding that she speaks Spanish, English and Italian.
In addition to drug-trafficking, her boyfriend is accused of shooting Paraguayan soccer star Salvador Cabanas in the head in a Mexico City nightclub on Jan. 25, 2010. The news shocked Paraguayans, who'd hoped the star would lead the national squad to last summer's World Cup. Though Cabanas recovered, his playing days are over.
About three weeks after the shooting, Interpol authorities issued a red alert for Balderas Garza's capture, finally tracking him down last week.
In November, police arrested Juliana Lopez Aguirre, who's also a Colombian, alongside Harold Mauricio Poveda, a narco suspect known as "El Conejo," or "The Rabbit."
Police say Poveda was the go-between from the Beltran Leyva narcotics gang to Colombian drug traffickers.
The Colombian model had been nearly arrested two years earlier when security agents burst into one of Poveda's properties while she celebrated her birthday. News reports described the property as a "narco-mansion" with a Jacuzzi in a grotto, a dance floor and two pet black panthers.
A scandal erupted last April surrounding Alicia Machado, a Venezuelan who won the 1996 Miss Universe crown, then was caught in a controversy about her weight gain and Donald Trump's remark that she was an "eating machine."
Machado, a Mexico City resident, found herself in the news again when a report from a secret witness under federal protection that claimed she was involved with Gerardo Alvarez Vazquez, an accused kingpin known as "El Indio," or "The Indian," filtered out to Mexican media.
The witness asserted that Machado had borne Alvarez's daughter, Dinorah, in 2008 and that several drug lords from the Beltran Leyva gang came to the baptism.
Through a spokeswoman, Machado denied the allegation, saying it "was totally false because the father in question is a very respectable businessman."
Another model, Angie Sanclemente, who was crowned Coffee Queen 2000 in her native Colombia, was arrested in Argentina last May. Prosecutors said she'd married a Mexican drug lord known as "El Monstruo," or "The Monster," before relocating to Argentina to manage young women ferrying cocaine to Europe via Mexico.
Gangsters in Mexico also have turned their eyes to homegrown beauty queens. Best known is Laura Elena Zuniga, who was crowned Miss Sinaloa 2008 and went on to capture the title of Miss Hispanic America the same year in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Upon her arrest late that year, Zuniga said she had no idea her boyfriend was a leader of the Juarez Cartel. A judge believed her and set her free in 2009.
**TIM JOHNSON, McClatchy Newspapers