A Nicaraguan judge on Friday gave 30-year prison terms to 18 Mexicans who posed as journalists and were found guilty last month of drug trafficking, money laundering and organized crime.
The Mexicans were arrested in August as they tried to cross Nicaragua's border with neighbor Honduras carrying $9.2 million in six vehicles with logos of Mexico's biggest broadcaster, Televisa. The media giant has denied any links to the group.
Judge Edgar Altamirano gave one of the toughest sentences to Raquel Alatorre Correa, who authorities said was the leader of the group and its only female member. She would have had to serve 35 years were it not for Nicaraguan legislation that caps sentences at 30 years.
Mexican drug cartels have used Central America as a bridge to shuttle drugs from South America and they are increasingly using the region for field operations and storage, resulting in a wave of violence.