The 18 Mexicans arrested last summer in Nicaragua while posing as Televisa journalists and later convicted on drug, money laundering and racketeering charges were sentenced Friday to 30 years in prison.

That is the maximum prison term allowed under Nicaraguan law.

The apparent leader of the group, Raquel Alatorre Correa, was in tears as she entered the courtroom in Managua for sentencing.

It was last Aug. 24 when the Mexicans were detained in Nicaragua with $9.2 million in cash they were apparently trying to smuggle from Mexico to Costa Rica.

The suspects were traveling in six vans bearing Televisa logos and had letters of accreditation ostensibly signed by the media giant's vice president for national reporting, Amador Narcia.

Alatorre identified herself as a Televisa news director.

The Mexican network immediately denied any knowledge of the suspects and asked Nicaragua to carry out a thorough investigation.

Prosecutors said the 18 defendants were part of a "highly organized" criminal outfit that transported large quantities of drugs from Mexico to Costa Rica.

Defense lawyers announced plans to appeal the guilty verdicts, citing the absence of evidence that the defendants were transporting drugs.

"Not so much as a gram of cocaine was ever exhibited here," attorney Ramon Rojas Urroz said.

On the way out of the courtroom, defendant Cecilio Torres told journalists that he and the others were "mistreated and deceived," though he did not who was responsible. EFE