Mexico's 'Crime Queen' Anel Violeta Noriega Rios arrested in LA

Drug cartel's top boss in the US caught after cross-border tip-off

Los Angeles

Wearing a crumpled white T-shirt, the woman arrested at an ordinary apartment block in East Los Angeles didn't look particularly regal as she was handcuffed and bundled into a police car. Without make-up and designer clothes, it was difficult to see how anyone could call her La Chula (the beautiful), La Bonita (The Pretty One), or the most famous of her various nicknames, La Reina de Crimen, which means, "The Queen of Crime".

On Tuesday, US authorities nonetheless announced that the woman brought into custody last week in the largely Spanish-speaking LA suburb of El Monte had been identified as Anel Violeta Noriega Rios, one of the most wanted underworld figures in Mexico.

Ms Rios, who is only 27, is believed to be the top US-based representative of La Familia, one of the six large criminal cartels that control the multibillion-dollar business of shipping drugs across the USA's porous southern border.

Officials from the US immigration service said they had confirmed the identity of Ms Rios using her fingerprints and handed her to their Mexican counterparts in San Ysidro, a city in southern California next to Tijuana, last Friday.

Ms Rios is believed to have overseen the cartel's distribution of methamphetamine, marijuana, and cocaine in California and Washington.

The cartel has managed to maintain a foothold in the two hugely lucrative US markets despite the arrest of several kingpins in recent years, including its founder, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, and leader, Jose de Jesus Mendez, who was arrested in 2011. A 64-page criminal warrant issued in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas in 2010 had revealed how Ms Rios orchestrated her end of the drug-trafficking network, at one point using a gardening company to import drugs in shipments of fertiliser and other supplies that were brought into LA's Long Beach port.

The document led to her becoming one of the country's most notorious female criminals, although her power has waned somewhat with La Familia's falling fortunes in recent years. At the time of her arrest, she still had a 5m-peso (£250,000) reward on her head.

A spokesman for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement service declined to say where she had been found, or what sort of tip-off had led to her arrest. She has no criminal convictions in the US, but had been deported for being in the country illegally five times between 2004 and 2005.

Sources at the agency told The Los Angeles Times they had caught up with her after being told by their Mexican counterparts that she was believed to be living in the San Gabriel area of Los Angeles, which borders El Monte. After a short surveillance operation, she was brought into custody without incident.

The modest apartment block was "the last place you'd expect to find someone who was supposed to have run so many drugs", the newspaper was told. "It's not clear if she was just hiding, or if she'd fallen upon hard times."

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