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Indiana Beauty queen arrested in Mexican cartel bust that included one of feds' most wanted fugitives

A beauty queen was arrested as part of a major cartel bust, which included 18 suspects as of last week, and was accused of using her job to transport cash

An Indiana beauty queen was swept up in a sweeping drug bust with ties to a Mexican cartel that's been years in the making.

Glenis Zapata, 34, who was crowned Miss Indiana Latina in 2011, allegedly used her job as a flight attendant to move drug money from Chicago to the southern states and into Mexico, according to a federal indictment. 

She's charged with two counts of money laundering stemming from a $170,000 cash transport on August 7, 2019, and at least $140,000 on September 10, 2019.

Zapata was one of 18 suspects arrested when federal law enforcement took down their main target, Oswaldo Espinosa, who was among the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) most wanted fugitives.

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Zapata, along with two bank tellers - Zapata's sister, Ilenis Zapata and Georgina Banuelos - were the latest to be arrested in the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces' take down of Oswaldo Espinosa. 

Espinosa is the alleged ring leader of a multi-million dollar, Mexico-based drug trafficking ring that flooded US streets with thousands of kilograms of cocaine, according to the latest federal indictment filed on May 16.

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From 2018 to 2023, Espinosa recruited seemingly ordinary, under-the-radar workers like Zapata, as part of his alleged criminal enterprise, which used warehouses and garages all over the Windy City to hide money and drugs. 

Cash and cocaine were loaded into semi-trailer trucks and on planes from the Midwest stash houses to the southern part of the U.S. and into Mexico, "including via commercial flights and using the assistance of Glenis Zapata," the indictment alleges. 

Espinosa was the head of his own Mexican international drug trafficking organization (DTO) called the Espinosa DTO, according to court documents. 

The last filing, which included the charges against Zapata, detailed eight drug trafficking operations from 2021 to 2023 and 15 cash transports between November 2019 and March 2022. 

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The investigation into Espinosa was spearheaded by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, which was created to attack major drug rings in the U.S. 

The ESPINOSA DTO is a small cartel in comparison to powerhouses like The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and El Chapo's Sinaloa Cartel, which control nearly all of Mexico and its maritime ports and spread their tentacles throughout the U.S. 

In total, researchers estimate there are about 150 Mexican cartels of various sizes with about 175,000 "active members" (as of 2022), according to a September 2023 study by Science.

And many of these organized crime syndicates spread their illegal businesses into the US, and smuggle drugs and money across the border. 

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A May DEA report said Mexico's "most powerful and ruthless cartels" — The Jalisco New Generation and Sinaloa cartels — operate in all 50 states.

Both cartels' primary products are meth and fenantyl, according to the report, which said that Mexican cartels have "caused the worst drug crisis in US history." 

Dismantling major drug operations is among federal law enforcement agencies' primary goals. 

In 2023, law enforcement agencies within 150 miles of the border conducted nearly 600 bulk cash seizures valued at $18 million, the DEA report says. 

"DEA’s top operational priority is to relentlessly pursue and defeat the two Mexican drug cartels … that are primarily responsible for driving the current fentanyl poisoning epidemic in the United States," the report says. 

The operation "puts resources into the U.S.’s most violence- and overdose-plagued cities to target the violent dealers who kill thousands of Americans every week with fentanyl and with weapons."

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