GUADALAJARA, Mexico – A Mexican beauty queen arrested in a truck filled with weapons was dating a suspected leader in the powerful Juarez drug cartel, police said Wednesday.
The boyfriend of Miss Sinaloa Laura Zuniga is Angel Orlando Garcia Urquiza, a top operative in the Ciudad Juarez-based cartel, which at one point was considered Mexico's largest drug ring, said Jalisco Public Security Secretary Luis Carlos Najera.
The couple was traveling with six alleged bodyguards in Zapopan, outside the colonial city of Guadalajara, when soldiers stopped their two trucks at a military checkpoint on Monday, police said.
Inside, authorities found a large stash of weapons, ammunition and $53,300 in U.S. currency.
The alleged relationship between Garcia and Mexico's well-known reigning beauty queen shows how deep powerful drug gangs have penetrated society, stretching well beyond bribing police and officials.
Mexican media report that traffickers with their visible wealth often have their pick of women in states like Sinaloa, where Zuniga is from and the home of the cartel of the same name. The popular musical genre "Narco-corridos" glorifies traffickers' exploits and gangs often have prefered bands who play their private parties. A number of Mexican musicians linked to cartels have been murdered in recent years.
Zuniga won the Miss Sinaloa pageant this year. She placed third in the Miss Mexico contest, whose winner competes for the Miss Universe title, and was crowned Miss HispanoAmericana, beating out contestants across Latin America.
She was expected to represent Mexico in an international contest in January.
Pageant organizers say they are awaiting the results of the investigation before deciding whether to strip her of her crowns.
Garcia's brother, Ricardo, was arrested in 2005 and police said he was responsible for 20 percent of Mexican narcotics sold on U.S. streets at the time. He reportedly earned nearly $1 billion a month smuggling Colombian cocaine and marijuana into the United states through corridors near Ciudad Juarez, which lies across the border from El Paso, Texas.
The Juarez Cartel was considered the country's largest drug ring under the leadership of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, known as "Lord of the Skies" because the gang flew planes packed with cocaine directly into U.S. territory.
Carrillo died in 1997 from botched plastic surgery to alter his appearance and investigators say control of the cartel fell to his brother, Vicente.
The gang split in 2004 after other powerful smugglers tried to move in on its trade, and Vicente, fearing for his life, went into hiding.
In his absence, according to federal prosecutors, Ricardo Garcia Urquiza took control of a faction after forging contacts with Colombian drug producers while studying to become a surgeon.
After being arrested, Zuniga told police they were planning on traveling to Bolivia and Colombia to go shopping.
Zuniga's father, Jesus Esteban Zuniga, said her daughter had told him she was going to a Christmas party in Guadalajara. He told The Associated Press that he does not believe his daughter is involved in drug trafficking.
"She's a good daughter," he said. "She's always focused on her work and she's had a spotless reputation ... until now."