Arizona mom’s Mexico drug arrest ‘about money,’ husband says
(CNN) — An Arizona mother of seven will be back in court on Wednesday as a judge weighs whether she will go free or remain behind bars in Mexico, her family said.
It’s a situation Yanira Maldonado’s family said she never imagined when she boarded a bus to head back to the United States last week after attending a family funeral in Mexico.
Now she’s facing drug-smuggling charges after authorities said they found 12 pounds of marijuana under her bus seat.
Her family vehemently denies the charges and accuses Mexican authorities of arresting her to get bribe money.
A Mexican state official also believes Yanira Maldonado was framed.
“It’s about getting money here,” Yanira Maldonado’s husband, Gary Maldonado, told CNN’s “Starting Point” Tuesday.
Mexican authorities arrested Maldonado Wednesday as she and her husband were on their way back to Arizona.
During a search of their bus at a military checkpoint in the northwestern Mexican state of Sonora, authorities asked everyone to get off.
At first, authorities told Gary Maldonado that marijuana had been found under his seat and arrested him, his father, Larry Maldonado, told CNN. After the father contacted the U.S. Consulate in Hermosillo, Mexico, authorities said they were mistaken and released Gary.
Then, they charged his wife.
Gary Maldonado said he believes Mexican soldiers at the checkpoint wanted a bribe.
“From what I hear, that’s a regular occurrence,” he said.
Maldonado’s court hearing had stretched for more than three hours Tuesday afternoon, said Brandon Klippel, her brother-in-law. Military officers from the checkpoint were scheduled to testify on Wednesday, Klippel said after speaking with family members and a translator who were inside the Mexican courtroom Tuesday.
“Although we are disappointed to hear that she will not be released today,” he said, “we are very encouraged by the strong evidence and witnesses proving her innocence.”
The Mexican Embassy in Washington said in a statement that a preliminary decision from the judge was expected soon.
Questions about arrest
A Sonora state official with extensive knowledge of the case told CNN there are questions about the arrest.
“Can you imagine?” asked the official, who was not authorized to speak to the media and did not want to be named. “A passenger by himself or herself would have been unable to carry almost 6 kilos of marijuana onto a bus without being noticed. She must’ve been framed.”
A regional office of Mexico’s Defense Ministry said troops conducting a routine investigation stopped the bus Maldonado was riding in and and found 5.7 kilograms (12.5 pounds) of a substance that appeared to be marijuana under her seat.
Troops turned the case over to the Mexican attorney general’s office, the defense ministry said. Maldonado is being housed in a women’s prison in Nogales, Mexico, while authorities decide her fate.
The Sonora state division of the attorney general’s office said the investigation is ongoing and declined to provide additional information about the case against Maldonado.
Her husband, Gary, was told by authorities that regardless of his wife’s guilt or innocence, he would have to pay $5,000 to secure her freedom, the family said.
He was able to cobble together the money but then was told it was too late. His wife had been transferred to another jail.
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake is monitoring the case, his office said.
“Senator Flake is personally monitoring the situation, and he has had multiple conversations with the deputy Mexican ambassador this weekend,” Flake’s office said.
Fear grips family
But all this has not changed the situation for Yanira Maldonado or lessened the fears of her family.
“She’s not happy where she’s at but she has high hopes she’ll be free,” Gary Maldonado said.
Klippel says the family has hired a lawyer in Mexico but still is very worried because they do not fully understand the local legal system.
At the court hearing scheduled for Tuesday, Klippel said, a judge will decide whether to release Maldonado or hold her in custody for four months until a trial.
A local lawyer has told them that Maldonado can request a 72-hour extension to delay that decision.
“We’re worried that Yanira may not know that she’s the one that needs to request this,” said Klippel. “If they don’t extend the 72 hours, (the judge) will make the decision whether she can go free tomorrow or will be transported to a prison in south Mexico.”
On Saturday, Maldonado’s daughter, Anna Soto, said she visited her mother in jail.
“I broke down in tears, but she just told me that she was going to get out,” Soto said Monday in an emotional interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
“She wanted to tell my brothers and sisters that she loved them very much. My biggest fear is that I will never get to see her again ”
The next day, other family members paid Maldonado a visit.
They were told they would have hours to talk with her, but when they arrived they were given only 10 minutes, Klippel said.
“She was at a wire window with her fingertips up through the holes, touching her son’s hand with one hand and touching her husband’s hand with the other,” Klippel said. “She was just saying, ‘I don’t know how this happened to me. I’ve never done anything illegal in my life. Why has this happened?'”
“She’s innocent,” Soto said. “She’s an honest good woman. A Christian woman that would never do anything to jeopardize her freedom.”