GUADALAJARA, Mexico – A reigning Mexican beauty queen from the drug-plagued state of Sinaloa was arrested with suspected gang members in a truck filled guns and ammunition, police said Tuesday.
Miss Sinaloa 2008 Laura Zuniga stared at the ground, with her flowing dark hair concealing her face, as she stood squeezed between seven alleged gunmen lined up before journalists. Soldiers wearing ski masks guarded the 23-year-old model and the suspects.
Zuniga was arrested shortly before midnight on Monday at a military checkpoint in Zapopan, just outside the colonial city of Guadalajara, said Jalisco state police director, Francisco Alejandro Solorio.
Zuniga was riding in one of two trucks, where soldiers found a large stash of weapons, including two AR-15 assault rifles, .38 specials, 9mm handguns, nine magazines, 633 cartridges and $53,300 in U.S. currency, Solorio said.
State police identified one of the men caught with her as the brother of an alleged drug trafficker from Ciudad Juarez, a city on the U.S. border, and said the man appeared to have been her boyfriend.
Zuniga told police that she was planning on traveling to Bolivia and Colombia with the men to go shopping, Solorio said.
When the former preschool teacher won Miss Sinaloa in July she gave an impassioned speech about how society should value women more, especially mothers. In October, she won the Hispanoamerican Queen beauty contest in October against competitors from across Latin America.
She placed third in the Nuestra Belleza Mexico pageant in Monterrey in September. That pageant sends its winner to the Miss Universe contest. For placing third, she was expected to represent Mexico in the 2009 Miss International contest.
Zuniga is from the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa, the home of the powerful cartel of the same name. It was not immediately known whether Zuniga and the men were being investigated for drug ties.
Lupita Jones, the national director of Nuestra Belleza Mexico, released a statement distancing the organization from Zuniga. Jones also said Nuestra Belleza knew nothing about "any illicit activity in which she could be involved."
The organization also says it will await the results of the investigation before making any decision about whether to strip Zuniga of her crown.
"Since 1994, Nuestra Belleza has been a serious, honest and transparent organization dedicated exclusively to preparing Mexican women to successfully represent our country en various contests and whose object is to show the beauty, value and intelligence of each one of them," Jones said.
Tatiana Limpias of Gloria promotions, which organizes the Hispanoamerican contest in Bolivia, told The Associated Press that their lawyers were also looking into the matter before making a decision about her crown.
About 90 percent of the cocaine entering the United States passes through Mexico, earning its powerful and vicious cartels billions of dollars a year and allowing them to corrupt the segments of society ranging from the police and army to musical groups.