Beauty Queen Flight Attendant Accused of Money Laundering for Drug Cartel

A former beauty queen from Indiana is facing charges for allegedly using her position as a flight attendant to launder money for a Mexican drug trafficking organization. Glenis Zapata, 34, who was crowned Miss Indiana Latina in 2011, is accused of transporting cash proceeds for the Espinosa DTO on commercial flights, leveraging her “Known Crew Member” (KCM) badge and authority.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office revealed the charges after a superseding indictment was unsealed last Friday. The indictment also implicates 17 other individuals, including the 41-year-old leader and primary manager of the organization, both from Mexico, and the head of the Chicago operations, a Texas native.

The Espinosa DTO is believed to have operated from 2018 to 2023, smuggling drugs into the U.S. using semitrailer trucks and a private charter plane. The plane, which flew from Toluca, Mexico, via Houston to the Gary/Chicago International Airport in Gary, Indiana, was seized by authorities in 2021. The cocaine, concealed in suitcases, was then transported in a Lincoln Navigator to a hotel in downtown Chicago.

The operation was exposed when agents stopped a Toyota Highlander a few blocks from the hotel, seizing 80 kilos of cocaine in suitcases and arresting the driver. A subsequent arrest at the hotel led to the seizure of an additional 20 kilograms of cocaine.

According to court documents, the traffickers operated across the U.S., utilizing warehouses, commercial garages, and “stash locations” like apartments and offices to store and distribute packages and cash. Throughout 2021, authorities seized large quantities of cocaine linked to the organization in Chicago, Indiana, Florida, Texas, and Michigan. In 2019 and 2020, hundreds of thousands of dollars tied to the ring were seized in Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Tennessee, and Florida.

The group reportedly used encrypted cellphones and applications to protect their communications from law enforcement. They also maintained paper and electronic ledgers to track their cocaine, drug debts, cash payments, and transfers.

Two bank employees in Indiana, one of whom is reportedly Zapata’s sister, are also accused of assisting in laundering the drug proceeds.