Arizona Mother Yanira Maldonado Says Drug Smuggling Charges in Mexico a 'Nightmare'

The Arizona mother of seven denies she was trying to smuggle drugs.

ByABC News
May 30, 2013, 2:15 AM

NOGALES, Ariz., May 30, 2103— -- An Arizona mother of seven choked back tears while trying to make sense of how she went from sitting on a bus in Mexico to a jail cell, accused of smuggling drugs, and now at the mercy of the country's justice system.

Yanira Maldonado said the events of the past week have been a "nightmare," but is holding out hope that she will soon be released because she has "nothing to hide."

Maldonado, 42, denies that she was trying to smuggle 12 pounds of marijuana under her bus seat May 22 as she and her husband, Gary, were heading back to the United States after attending a funeral.

Her family says she was falsely accused and wrongfully imprisoned in the border town of Nogales, Mexico.

"It was horrible," Maldonado told ABC News Phoenix affiliate KNXV-TV Wednesday in a jail-house interview.

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"I was in shock. I'm like this is not real. This is not happening. I don't know. I thought maybe this was a set-up or a joke or something. I was just waiting for it to end but I realized that it's real, that I'm being detained."

At the check point, the soldiers who accused her of trafficking drugs took her into custody. Her husband was released after initially being suspected of smuggling.

Maldonado said a Mexican official told her she had to plead guilty despite her insistence that she was innocent.

"She's like, 'I'm here to help. I'm here to put criminals behind bars,' and I thought, "Thank God. I'm innocent.' So, I thought that she was here to help me and she didn't," Maldonado, a devout Mormon, said.

It's not the first time family members say they were let down by officials in Mexico in the past week. The family said an attorney in Mexico told them they could bribe the judge. Gary Maldonado frantically had family wire him $5,000 for the bribe. He says, however, that although the money was offered, it was not accepted.

Yanira Maldonado, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico, has no criminal history. Hearings are set to resume Friday and the judge could decide whether the case goes to trial.

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If convicted, Maldonado could spend at least 10 years in one of Mexico's notoriously violent jails. But she remains confident the truth will prevail.

"I'm going to be free. I'm going to be free. I'm not guilty. I don't have nothing to hide," she said.

Meanwhile, in court Wednesday, Maldonado's lawyer argued that soldiers had presented inconsistent testimony about two packages of marijuana they said had recovered, with some saying both were found under his client's seat and others saying they were found under two separate seats.

Mexican officials provided local media with photos that they said were of the packages Maldonado is accused of smuggling. Each was about 5 inches high and 20 inches wide. Maldonado's lawyer said the packets of drugs were attached to the seat bottoms with metal hooks, calling that a task that would have been impossible for a passenger boarding normally to do.

Maldonado's lawyer has requested a list of the bus passengers and video of the passengers boarding to show she was not in possession of drugs.

The soldiers who detained Maldonado have yet to appear in court to make their case against her.

Until a judge makes a decision about Maldonado's future, she is spending her time at a holding facility in the border town of Nogales, helping her fellow inmates.

"This other inmate doesn't know how to read, and I was reading for her and she likes it. And this other girl, she wants me to come back to teach but I told her that I cannot teach," she told KNXV.

The mother of seven finds comfort in the two things she holds most dear to her heart: family and faith.

Maldonado's daughter recently visited her in jail and the meeting was emotional for both.

"She couldn't even talk. She's crying and I'm like, 'Mija [my daughter], everything is going to be fine. Everything is going to be fine,'" Maldonado said. "I told my son, no matter what happens you need to go to church on Sundays. You need to do what is right and heavenly father will bless us. This is going to be ... something good is going to come from this"

The Associated Press contributed to this report.