The head of Mexico’s most powerful teacher’s union was arrested near Mexico City yesterday, accused of embezzling millions in union funds to pay for, among other things, homes in San Diego.
Elba Esther Gordillo has led the union since 1989, and in that role has been seen as a kingmaker in Mexican politics because of her ability to mobilize votes.
Suspicions of corruption have trailed her for decades, in part because of her use of private jets, her penchant for designer clothes, purses and expensive cars, and the fact that she owns a sprawling home in the San Diego community of Coronado.
A video uploaded to YouTube in 2010, apparently produced by union members, shows several members from Tijuana visiting the home, ringing Gordillo’s buzzer, and asking her to come to the door to speak in person. They say they want to discuss grievances with her as their union leader.
She tells the teacher they are on private property, to which he responds, “Yes, but we also know it’s property you bought with our dues.”
Gordillo thanks him and hangs up.
On Tuesday, Mexican prosecutors said that was in fact what she did. They accuse her of siphoning at least $200 million – possibly much more -- from union accounts.
They say she bought a second Coronado home, plastic surgery, more than $2 million in purchases at San Diego’s Neiman Marcus store, and private jet travel.
The arrest came the day after Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a major education reform bill that Gordillo had opposed. She was detained at an airport on her way to her union’s annual conference, fueling speculation the arrest was strategically timed.