Mexico's jailed teachers' union leader denied home detention

AP News
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Posted: Aug 23, 2015 8:04 PM

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Call it the curse of El Chapo.

After Mexico's most famous prisoner, drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, tunneled his way out of a maximum security facility last month, its second-most famous prisoner has been denied home detention by a Mexican federal court.

Former teachers' union head Elba Esther Gordillo, once a feared political operator who has been in jail since 2013 on charges of embezzlement and organized crime, had requested home detention for health reasons. She is 70 years old, the age at which under Mexican law prisoners can be considered for serving jail time at home.

But the 6th Court of Federal Criminal Proceedings said in a ruling made public Sunday that her team failed to provide sufficient evidence that a home detention would not allow her to escape.

Guzman, the world's most famous and wanted drug lord, left July 11 after little more than year in jail through a 1.5-kilometer (1 mile) tunnel from a small opening in the shower area of his cell, much to the embarrassment of the Mexican government, which swore he would never escape a second time. He left another maximum-security facility in western Jalisco state in 2001 and was on the lam for 13 years before his recapture in 2014.

As head of the 1.5 million-member National Union of Education Workers, Gordillo was known for her designer clothes, flamboyant spending and ability to swing presidential elections with votes from her teachers' union and the political party she founded.

She was arrested Feb. 26, 2013, as she returned to Mexico City on a private jet from her home near San Diego. At the time, she was gearing up protests against President Enrique Pena Nieto's proposed education form, which has since become law and is still being implemented.

Gordillo was charged with embezzling 2 billion pesos (about $125 million in today's dollars) from the union she has led for nearly a quarter century. She is still awaiting trial.

Prosecutors said she spent nearly $3 million in purchases at Neiman Marcus department stores using union funds, as well as $17,000 in U.S. plastic surgery bills and $1 million to buy her U.S. home.

Her arrest sidelined the union, which has cooperated with the new education law that took hiring and promotion power from the unions and put it in the hands of the government.