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|On December 13, 2009, a 21-year-old blonde named Maria checked in for her flight at Ezezia, the international airport of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
She was dressed like a Latina model headed for a relaxing vacation. Her tight white pants and high heels made the young beauty look taller than her 5’9″. Flying nonstop, her destination was unremarkable—Cancun. Travelling alone and first class made Maria about the least suspicious passenger in the terminal. But she was on a mission.
For US$1000, she had agreed to accompany a suitcase to Mexico. “You won’t have to touch the bag, drop it off or pick it up. You just fly.” Those had been the simple instructions from her boyfriend, Ariel, also a model, as he described the business deal.
On her return to Buenos Aires, Maria was promised another $4000—a small fortune in economically ravaged Argentina, especially for a youngster facing stiff odds in the highly competitive fashion industry. She had allegedly flown a dry run a few weeks earlier, without incident.
In minutes, Maria’s world fell apart. Airport police pulled her aside and began questioning her about the dozens of one-kilo packets of cocaine neatly wrapped in a towel inside her suitcase. The stash was worth approximately $4 million, according to estimates from the United States’ Drug Enforcement Administration.
Maria cracked instantly, offering up an address in the chic Belgrano district of Buenos Aires. Argentine judge Marcelo Aguinsky ordered a raid that evening, and the police arrived to witness male and female models jumping off the second-storey balcony to escape.
Gustavo from Venezuela; Micaela from Argentina; and Ariel—Maria’s beau—who cracked his clavicle, pelvis and smacked his head in the mad scramble to evade the law.
At Pirovano Hospital, the models allegedly confessed that they had been sending a courier every day of the week—meaning that an avalanche of cocaine was on its way to Europe via Mexico. Where the coke came from and exactly where it ended up wasn’t their problem.
They had been tasked to come up with an entrepreneurial solution to transporting cocaine to Cancun. Their solution? Turn the normal concept of drug ‘mules’ on its arse.
This gang preferred to use ‘peacocks’, drug smugglers so hot and sexy that a border guard would be more likely to open a door for them than open their bags. The kind of women who instantly turn a man’s analytical brain to mush.
The gang’s leader was just such a female. A walking aphrodisiac of curves, attitude and cash, she was from Colombia and had an insider’s understanding of the cocaine industry, but no-one seemed to know her name.
Argentine detectives pressed her associates, but the beauty had covered her trail well. No-one could identify her. However, they all mentioned her passion for a white Pomeranian dog.
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.
While the press set about convicting her, one pal who rose to Angie’s defence was an old school friend, Luis Alfonso Passo, who stated that she was: “incapable of taking a gram of cocaine to their local nightclub on the corner”.
CNN‘s Penhaul disputed the notion of Sanclemente as ‘queen-pin’, suggesting, “Angie’s role would have been choosing the mules for the operation, not running the cartel.”
Furthermore, he claimed it was doubtful she had the contacts necessary to operate an ‘international trafficking gang’, given that she would have needed top Mexican cartel connections to be flying the drugs into Cancun in the first place.
It was estimated that paying off all of the right people at the airport—from those manning the check-in desk and scanner to the roaming security guards—would have cost a huge amount. Plus there was the cost of the cocaine and the payment for the bewitchingly attractive mule.
“I doubt that Angie was in charge of the operation,” confessed an Argentine police official. “This is a hard business, not really a place for women to be running the show. But might she have been in charge of recruiting the women and sending them to Cancun? Certainly.”
Until her criminal controversy, Sanclemente was a woman on the rise, garnering magazine covers in Mexico and leaving a trail of starstruck men in her wake.
Her plastic surgery to nose, butt and breasts, and her liposuctioned curves, ties to The Monster and, inevitably, to drugs are all too common in Colombia.
Her life story is similar to Sin Tetas No Hay Paraiso (“Without Tits there is No Paradise”), an enormously popular TV soap that chronicles stunning chicas, plastic surgeons and cocaine king-pins in plotlines reminiscent of Nip/Tuck meets The Godfather.
Unfortunately for Angie, she was arrested on May 26, while hiding out in a trendy suburb of Buenos Aires.
Her mother protested the former beauty queen’s innocence, telling reporters, “She is no drug trafficker, nor is she the queen of cocaine. There are bad intentions—a plot against her. She will prove her innocence.”
In September, Angie was transferred to a new prison after being assaulted and receiving death threats.
She was described by her mother as being suicidal. The degree of Sanclemente’s involvement in the clever courier system, if any, remains to be seen.
But for now, the drug lords will have to find another way to ship their illegal merchandise other than in the suitcase of a sexy and innocent-looking young woman.
IN the past two years, Colombian investigators have been probing the links between drug bosses and second-tier beauty pageant Chica Med. Suspicions that king-pins were running the contest were confirmed when Yovanna Guzman, Miss Chica Med 2001, confessed all in an interview with Elenco magazine.
Guzman, a fair-haired fox, described being bought for a pile of luxuries that began with a Rolex, then progressed to cars and luxury apartments. For eight years, she was the secret lover of cocaine boss Wilber Varela.
Varela, a ruthless narco, was wanted for smuggling tonnes of cocaine into the US and for murdering his rivals. Guzman remembers him for delivering flowers but also warning shots for stepping out of line—like the time a gunman showed up at her apartment to shoot her in the leg. “He had two faces. I saw him so tender with the ones he loved, then you see the cartel killings. He always said he was the best of friends and the worst of enemies.”
Yovanna described to CNN the ‘golden cage’ in which she had lived—showered with luxuries, yet held as property by the cartel leader. “All those narcos care about is how big your breasts are. If they want you, the first thing they do is send you to their plastic surgeon to have silicone implants. But it’s them who decide how big you should be, not you.”
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