Elba Esther Gordillo, the head of Mexico's powerful, 1.5-million strong national teachers’ union, was arrested earlier this week on charges related to corruption.
Many see the arrest as an attempt by Mexico's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, to put his foot down on a woman who had pretty much become a kingmaker in the country — able to send 1.5 million votes to whomever she wished.
Either way, allegations about Gordillo's luxurious lifestyle have been widespread over the past few days. It's something to behold.
While she was born into poverty, Gordillo currently holds the title of “president for life” of the teacher's union. She has been its leader for 24 years.
Officially, her monthly salary is around $6,000, according to the Independent. However, in the past the Mexican press has asked how she could afford an outfit that included $1,200 shoes and a $5,500 purse.
She appears to frequently get plastic surgery, and is also reported to own a $1.6 million home in La Jolla, a San Diego. Calif., suburb.
Gordillo was arrested on Tuesday as she got off her private jet, flying between San Diego and Mexico City. Gordillo and two allies were accused of being siphoning off $200 million of union money, a figure investigators claim is only 10 percent of the money missing.
According to Mexican blog Animal Politico, that money was reportedly linked to $17,000 of plastic surgery, $650,000 paid to an art gallery, and a $2.1 million shopping spree at the Neiman Marcus store in San Diego. Other questionable expenditures included bills for hangar rental and aircraft maintenance, according to the Miami Herald.
Gordio's generosity to her staff was famous. In 2006, Gordillo was reported to have taken 125 of her employees and their children on a seven-day Pacific cruise. She was later reported to have given a fleet of Hummers to regional bosses in 2008. (They were later raffled for charity.) The Miami Herald reports that she had even been planning to take union leaders on an all-expenses paid cruise to the Caribbean from Miami late last year, but cancelled when she heard of education reforms.
Gorio has fended off threats before, in her own idiosyncratic way. According to the Guardian she claims to have "held off an imminent attempt to depose her in the late 1990s with the help of a witchcraft ceremony up a Nigerian mountain in which she was clothed with the pelt of a white lion that had been skinned alive."
It doesn't seem likely she'll go down without a fight — according to the BBC, Gorio wants her tombstone to read: "Here lies a warrior, and as a warrior she died."
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