They know her as the Queen of Iguala in Mexico, but she prefers to be known as a charitable soul. Now, however, most know her now as the alleged mastermind behind the disappearance of 43 student-teachers last month.
Maria de los Angeles Pineda Villa, the supposed mass murderer and first lady of the southern Mexico town of Iguaza, lies at the center of a scandal of extortion and corruption that Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto has declared his number one priority.
Even as related arrests stack up — more than 50 so far — the fugitive couple of Pineda Villa and her husband Mayor José Luis Abarca were detained in their hometown just Tuesday during an early-morning raid. They were detained by federal troops in a run-down abandoned home in Iztapalapa, 120 miles north of Iguala. Mayor Abarca stepped down from his post and fled last month as suspicions in the highly-publicized case fell on him and his bling-loving wife.
The pair are believed to be behind the abduction of 43 young men last month. The young college students are now assumed dead. Mexican authorities have so far uncovered several mass graves full of unidentified bodies.
The case implicates scores of officials suggesting an entrenched culture of corruption and organized crime in Iguala and the surrounding communities. According to the New York Times, the couple ruled over the town in collusion with the Guerreros Unidos drug gang.
Authorities believe Pineda ordered the execution of the 43 men on a whim. She was allegedly concerned that the group of students from a nearby teachers’ college, a left-wing school with a history of activism and protesting, would interrupt a celebration she was presiding over on the night of Sept. 26. Pineda Villa, the head of a municipal family welfare organization, was set to give her second annual address concerning her charitable accomplishments.
There had been a similar disturbance at an event she spoke at in June 2013. An outbreak of violence early in the day the left six dead evidently convinced Pineda Villa to take extreme measures. A few of the students who were hospitalized after the earlier violence were turned over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang.
“Teach them a lesson,” either she or her husband ordered, according to one account.
According to The Star, police rounded up 43 of the student teachers and placed them in the charge of Cesar Nava, deputy police chief of Cocutla. The students were herded into trucks and taken to Pueblo Viejo. El Gil, a pseudonym for the second-in-command of Guerreros Unidos, gave the order to proceed, saying the men posed a threat to the drug gang’s hold over the region.
The gang regularly paid Mayor Abarca up 10 $220,000 a month for his cooperation, federal authorities said, and paid police officers to act as their muscle. Pineda Villa was described as a top operative in the gang, an offshoot of the larger, infamous Beltrán Leyva crime group. Pineda Villa’s brothers, now deceased have been leaders of the gang in the past.
Previous arrests in the case include numerous police officers, leading investigators to uncover a total of 38 bodies buried in mass graves. It remains unclear if any of the bodies belong to the 43 missing men.