The wife of the former mayor of the Mexican city where police disappeared 43 students last September has been formally charged and sent to prison.
Authorities on Monday filed organized-crime charges against Maria de Los Angeles Pineda, wife of former Iguala mayor Jose Luis Abarca, after the expiring of a two-month deadline to establish legal proceedings against her since the pair's arrest in a run-down Mexico City neighborhood on November 4.
Abarca and Pineda have become symbols of the collusion between drug gangs and local officials that is believed to be widespread in Mexico.
In images released by the federal attorney general's office, Pineda is seen in a red sweater with eyes downcast and a blank expression, as masked police in Mexico City move her to a small aircraft. Authorities transferred her to Mexico's maximum-security prison for women in the western state of Nayarit.
Her charges of organized crime, including the use of illicit funds, are not directly linked to the act of disappearing the students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School, but authorities said Pineda's case is related to the ongoing investigation. Abarca is already facing charges for allegedly ordering local police in Iguala to attack the students.
According to the attorney general and to news accounts, Pineda is siblings with operators in the Guerreros Unidos cartel, which is accused by authorities of carrying out the probable mass execution and incineration of the 43 students. Only one of them has been confirmed as killed.
Pineda allegedly funneled cash from inside Iguala city hall to the cartel, authorities say. Her brothers, Mario and Alberto Pineda, were known financial operators of the Beltran Leyva cartel, a precursor to the Guerreros Unidos, prior to their deaths in 2009. A third brother, Salomon Pineda, was arrested in October and also accused of being a leader in the gang.
Both of Pineda's parents, Salomon and Maria, were arrested in the Mexican state of Morelos in 2009. The current whereabouts of the Pineda parents were not known, although a video of the Pineda matriarch circulated in 2013, showing her eyes and wrists bound as she admits family ties to the Guerreros Unidos.
"The Pineda Villa family has a network of corruption and institutional protection in the states of Morelos and Guerrero," a federal investigator named Rodrigo Esparza said at the time of those arrests.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and his cabinet were meeting with US President Barack Obama and members of his cabinet in Washington on Tuesday, although security issues in Mexico are taking a back-seat at the talks in favor of economic and trade matters.
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