Police poured through airport records looking for a record of a passenger with a Pom. They hit the jackpot—on December 3, 2009, less than two weeks before Maria’s arrest, a Colombian woman named “Angie Sanselmente” (sic) had registered her dog and provided a hotel address.
Police stormed the room in question. They were too late—Sanclemente was gone. For the next four months, the once high-profile model—previously seen at beauty festivals in her homeland and in the social pages of Mexican magazines—went on the run.
Interpol issued an international warrant for her arrest but her lawyer stood firm, saying Angie needed to be granted the right to testify without going to prison pending trial.
Meanwhile, Angie hid out in a Buenos Aires youth hostel, dyed her hair blonde and protested her innocence via Facebook, revealing her worry of going to prison in Argentina for fear of being raped because she was so beautiful.
“That’s ridiculous, we have special prisons for suspects, she would never end up in a common prison,” said an Argentine police investigator using the alias ‘Alberto Ramses’. When asked about Angie’s role in the cocaine-smuggling operation, Ramses explained: “The type of drug smugglers has changed radically here in recent years.
We used to see humble, dark-skinned Peruvians and Bolivians, now it is eastern European women and glamorous figures”.
While it was clear that someone was behind the operation, Sanclemente was telling Facebook friends, “I’m very sad and hurt by the bad information. I don’t know how the press can destroy an innocent person… I don’t want to go to jail, I don’t deserve it. I am innocent.”
She was also in contact with friends in Barranquilla, the Colombian port city where she’d begun her modelling career, one of whom revealed in an interview, “I heard from Angie… Right now she’s shocked and scared she will get arrested. She’s also afraid for her life because this is a big drug problem and the bad guys could harm her.”
It was Angie’s combination of brains, beauty and bravura that she’d used, at the age of 20, to snare one of South America’s most competitive beauty competitions—Miss Cafe Colombia.
With four years’ of runway experience, she was known in Barranquilla as a hardworking journalism student who also sold auto parts and had been helping pay half of her family’s rent since she was only 16.
She had no known connection to the Colombian coke world then, but after being crowned Reina Nacional del Café (Queen of Coffee), she was embroiled in scandal for a different reason.
All contestants are required to be single, never married and a virgin. It turned out that Angie failed on all counts. Days after she was crowned, her ex-husband was outed, along with their marriage certificate and details of other former boyfriends.
It’s likely that Sanclemente’s involvement in the drug world began, unwittingly, when she started entering beauty pageants.
Reason being that men involved in the cocaine trade go these pageants to buy women or pay off/threaten judges so that their favourites win. As Karl Penhaul, CNN reporter in Colombia, notes, women being bought by traffickers at the contests is “outrageously common”.
“The world of [fashion] was one of the first areas that the capos took over,” confirms Alonso Salazar, Secretary of Government for Medellin in Colombia. “Many of the beauty queens who in the past rose to fame on dirty money are today renowned models.”
In his recent book, Checkmate, Colombian Police General (retired) Rosso Jose Serrano describes the narcos as having an obsession with “blonde and voluptuous” women.
He also outlines the rules for being a narco girlfriend: “They should be beauty queens, models or university students. After the capos seduce them, they buy their freedom.
In these circles, it is acceptable to have many women, and none of them should be jealous of the others… In the Mafia there are things that must be sacrificed for money or for love.”
Following her dethroning, Sanclemente moved to Mexico where she found the yin to her yang—a madly rich Mexican man assumed to be a cocaine clearing house linked to the feared Gulf Cartel.
Nicknamed ‘El Monstruo’ due to his supposed ugliness, The Monster allegedly provided Sanclemente with enough cash and gifts that she was a regular on the VIP circuit, travelling to Panama, Santiago, Los Angeles, Spain and throughout Latin America.
As for the woman herself, with most of her acquaintances too afraid to speak, the majority of what we know comes from her posts on Facebook, hi5 and other internet sites… Angie describes her passion for DJ Tiësto, Madonna, Latino pop star Juanes and Bryan Adams.
She admits a soft spot for Tobey Maguire of Spider-Man fame, and her favourite book is Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.