Indiana Beauty Queen Arrested With The Cartel

Jorge Mendoza, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

( – In a comprehensive drug operation linked to a Mexican cartel, a former Indiana beauty queen was arrested as part of a long-term federal investigation.

Glenis Zapata, 34, who was titled Miss Indiana Latina in 2011, is accused of utilizing her position as a flight attendant to transport drug proceeds from Chicago to various southern states and eventually to Mexico, as stated in a federal indictment.

Zapata faces two charges of money laundering related to transporting $170,000 on August 7, 2019, and at least $140,000 on September 10, 2019.

The arrest of Zapata was part of a broader sweep that captured 18 individuals, targeting Oswaldo Espinosa, a key fugitive on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) most wanted list.

The indictment also implicates Zapata’s sister, Ilenis Zapata, and Georgina Banuelos, both bank tellers, in the operations led by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces aimed at dismantling Espinosa’s network.

According to federal authorities, Espinosa led a multi-million-dollar drug trafficking organization based in Mexico that was responsible for distributing vast quantities of cocaine across the U.S. This operation, running from 2018 to 2023, involved recruiting individuals who appeared unassuming to facilitate the movement of cash and drugs. These activities included loading drugs and money onto semi-trailer trucks and planes, traveling from Midwest hiding spots to the south and into Mexico, with Glenis Zapata alleged to have assisted in these operations via commercial flights.

Court documents reveal that Espinosa headed his own drug trafficking organization known as Espinosa DTO. The latest charges against Zapata detail multiple drug trafficking operations and cash transports spanning several years.

The ongoing investigation into Espinosa and his operations is part of a broader initiative by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, which focus on high-level drug trafficking activities in the U.S.

Comparatively, the Espinosa DTO is smaller than major cartels like The Jalisco New Generation Cartel and El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel, which dominate nearly all drug operations in Mexico and extend their influence throughout the U.S.

A September 2023 study estimates around 150 Mexican cartels operate with approximately 175,000 active members. These groups are heavily involved in smuggling operations that move drugs and money across the U.S. border.

According to a May DEA report, Mexico’s most powerful cartels operate in all 50 states, primarily trafficking meth and fentanyl, significantly contributing to the worst drug crisis in U.S. history. The DEA’s primary operational goal is to combat these cartels, particularly focusing on those driving the fentanyl epidemic in the U.S. This includes strategic operations in cities most affected by violence and overdoses, targeting violent dealers involved in the spread of fentanyl and weapons.

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