The Strange Case Of Gloria Trevi

To Young Karina Yapor Gomez, it looked like the path to stardom. But it led to one of the ugliest secrets in Mexican show business. Not long ago, when Gloria Trevi was Mexico's biggest rock star, Karina was one of her millions of fans. Karina's mother dutifully accompanied her to the singer's concerts whenever Trevi visited their hometown of Chihuahua in northern Mexico. Afterward, they would go to the star's hotel, hoping to fight their way through the crowds to talk with her. In October 1994, they managed to get close. Trevi invited Karina, then 13, to Mexico City to audition for Sergio Andrade, a respected music composer who launched and managed Trevi's career. He would pay for half the airfare, meals, a night in a hotel and--if Karina were talented enough--a scholarship to his private music school.

Karina and her mother flew to the capital. In a hotel room, Andrade gave her his standard tryout: sing a Gloria Trevi song, act like a poor Indian and then a wealthy girl. Karina passed, and two weeks later, Andrade sent two young women to Chihuahua to seal the deal. They sought a parental signature on a document putting Karina in Andrade's care. "We are not a wealthy family," says her father, Miguel Yapor. "If someone comes and offers you a scholarship, especially people like them, renowned and famous, you think it is the chance of your life and you accept it right away." He signed.

It was the biggest mistake of his life. Rather than making his daughter a star, Yapor appears to have consigned her to an underworld of sex and servitude. Mexican prosecutors allege that Andrade--with help from Trevi and a blind eye from the Mexican entertainment industry--had persuaded numerous parents to turn over their daughters, gained pyschological control over them and forced them to have sex with him. The scam, they say, has been going on for more than a decade but began to unravel only over the past year. Two women filed criminal complaints in Mexico City alleging that they were victims; Karina's parents followed with a similar complaint in Chihuahua in March. Last fall Trevi denied any wrongdoing and then disappeared from public sight. Andrade, who hasn't been seen in public since 1997, has never responded to the allegations. Prosecutors believe that they are on the run with at least nine girls, including Karina, and are eager to confront them with the charges. The police agency Interpol has issued international warrants for both Trevi and Andrade, and Mexico is now riveted by the hunt for the pair. Last week a man claiming to be their lawyer led Mexican reporters on a hopscotch around the country with assurances that Andrade and Trevi would finally show their faces. They never did.

If anybody could promise stardom, it was Andrade and Trevi. The brother of a senator from Mexico's ruling party, Andrade earned his reputation as a talented composer in the early 1980s, when his songs won prestigious awards at international music festivals and jump-started the careers of several female pop stars. Trevi was his biggest success. In 1989,when she was 19, her first solo album hit the top of the charts in its first week. Her debut movie, "Pelo Suelto" ("Loose Hair"), in 1991, became Mexico's biggest money earner to date. More than a rock star, Trevi became an important social icon, Mexico's first female singer to preach sexual liberation and sing about such taboos as abortion. Intellectuals welcomed her into political debates; Mexican writer Carlos Monsivais called her "the spokeswoman of her generation."

Nobody is saying that now. The first public allegation came in March 1998, when one of Andrade's proteges, Aline Hernandez, came out with a book, "La Gloria por el Infierno" ("To Glory Through Hell"). It tells how Trevi recruited Hernandez off the street in 1989 for an audition. According to the book, Andrade asked Hernandez to pose nude, and when she refused, Trevi urged her not to tell anyone. She didn't--not even her mother, who agreed to turn her daughter over to Andrade.

Within weeks, hernandez writes, she was convinced that she was in love with Andrade, and that although he was also having sex with the other girls, she was his favorite. She endured his rules--including the one against contact with other men--and punishments, such as flogging. She describes Trevi as something of an older sister, who assured her that Andrade's behavior was normal. In late 1990, when Hernandez was 15, she married Andrade, then 34, in a church ceremony with her mother's consent. But she ran away the next month and eventually got a divorce. Says Hernandez, now a singer and soap-opera actress: "I wrote this book to warn parents about what was happening to their daughters. At least 100 girls auditioned for him and had some type of relationship with him." At first few people believed Hernandez, and Trevi denied her allegations to Mexican prosecutors. The book was seen as the work of a bitter ex-wife who was also a rival television star. That is also what Karina's family says she told them.

Karina's most recent visit back home to Chihuahua was in September 1998. She arrived from Spain, her father recalls, where she had been living for a few months with Andrade, Trevi and several other girls. Five days later Trevi and another girl joined the family in Chihuahua and took the Yapors out to dinner. Trevi asked Karina's parents to sign a letter stating that they were comfortable with the way their daughter had been treated. It still didn't seem so unreasonable: Karina's letters, filled with details about her music classes at a school in Madrid, had assured them she was happy and working hard. And though Karina seemed upset on this trip home, she urged her parents to sign. They did--in front of a notary. Then Karina left again, saying she had to return to Spain. That was the last time her parents saw her.

Three weeks later the Yapor family received an astonishing call from the Mexican Foreign Ministry. The family was told that nearly a year before, in December 1997, Karina had given birth to a boy in Madrid. She named him Francisco Ariel Yapor Gomez, her own last name. The birth certificate does not list a father. Several months later Francisco was abandoned. A neighbor and a social worker brought him, badly malnourished, to La Paz Hospital in Madrid. Nobody ever returned for him, and he was transferred to an orphanage. In March Karina's parents filed their criminal complaint against Trevi and Andrade. Two months ago a Mexican Embassy official delivered the baby to Chihuahua, where his grandparents are now caring for him.

In Spain, police discovered that Andrade and Trevi moved between two houses in San Agustin del Guadalix, a village of 6,000 about 18 miles outside the capital. According to the landlady, it was rented in the name of a singer whom Andrade had managed for several years. She told the landlady the girls were there to study, and she believed them. Neighbors of the rented house, No. 29 on Castilla Leon street, remember young girls coming and going in vans and cars, rarely mixing with the locals. The windows were always covered, and a high trellis surrounded the backyard. "They were very strange people, very secretive," recalls Jesus Martin, who lives across the street. The group abandoned the house in July 1998, leaving behind videotapes, two televisions, telephones and a fax machine. That evidence, as well as witness testimony and newspaper advertisements that appeared in Madrid, has led Spanish investigators to suspect that the girls were being used as prostitutes, an Interpol official said.

Switching houses suddenly was a ritual the girls had grown used to back in Mexico. Andrade, who had become rich on the success of various performers, owns several homes in Mexico City and nearby Cuernavaca, and he regularly shuttled groups of four between the houses. That is how Guadalupe Carrasco remembers it. A beauty queen from the southern state of Chiapas, she joined the group in 1995, after a young woman approached her at a pageant, promised her a part in an upcoming Trevi soap opera and invited her to audition for Andrade. Carrasco modeled for him in her underwear. At 19, she was older than most of the other girls that Sergio lived with in his various homes. She remembers 17 girls in all.

Andrade set the rules, she recalls. Carrasco agreed to devote herself exclusively to studying music and dance, to live with the group, to not see her family or have boyfriends and to obey all orders. "I had to do all this, Andrade explained to me, if I wanted to be as successful as Gloria, or even more successful," Carrasco now explains. But dance and modeling lessons, Carrasco recalls, soon gave way to cleaning bathrooms and weeding the yards. "At first, I was happy because I thought these people were serious. Gloria was very famous at the time, and I trusted her and Andrade," she says. "But approximately two months later, I felt myself trapped in a weird relationship with Andrade." In her criminal complaint to Mexico City prosecutors, Carrasco states that Andrade would visit her room and force her to have sex with him, on two occasions in front of other girls. She told NEWSWEEK: "I don't know how he does it, but he makes you admire him. You really think he is a good person, and you admire him so much that you start thinking he has the right to possess you sexually. When he forced me to have sex, I was in shock."

The accounts of Carrasco and the other girls who have come forward make Andrade's power sound like that of a cult leader. Wherever they were, the girls were rarely allowed to talk with each other. They needed permission to leave their rooms. Television and radio were forbidden. Telephone calls were permitted, but only with Andrade's most trusted girls listening in the background. One girl was locked in the bathroom for three weeks, food slipped under the door. "He made me feel guilty if I didn't obey him," Carrasco said. But after 14 months, she lied that her mother had suffered a heart attack and slipped away for good.

Most shocking to Carrasco was Andrade's relationship with Trevi. It was Trevi, she says, who befriended the girls and made them admire Andrade.Trevi endured his temper and often slept on the floor next to his bed. "Gloria sang feminist songs," says Carrasco, "so it was so strange to see her like that, blindly obeying a machista."

Trevi was often presented as something she was not. Born as Gloria de los Angeles Trevino, she grew up in the northern industrial city of Monterrey. Though fan mythology holds that her family was poor and that she ran away from home, her parents were at least middle class and allowed her to pursue an entertainment career in Mexico City. Trevi left home in 1983 at 13. Her earliest performances were in subway stations. She later joined Boquitas Pintadas--Painted Mouths--an all-girl band managed by Andrade. Trevi's family put up the money in 1989 to produce her first album, "¿Que Hago Aqui?" ("What Am I Doing Here?")

Trevi quickly became the bane of conservative Roman Catholics and opponents of American influence. Her own grandmother once wrote in an open letter to the hometown newspaper: "For the love of God and of me, give us some good songs." Many fans compared her to the American rock star Madonna. It was not just that Trevi had songs banned from the radio, vowed that she would someday be president, raffled off her panties and stripped male volunteers to their underwear onstage at her concerts. It was that the country's lower-class youth seemed to identify with her. Young girls began to dress like her, in torn tights, ripped shoes and wild hair. Her seminude calendars hung in millions of factories and bedrooms across the country.

But to the people who knew Trevi, she was all Andrade's creation. Her antics onstage always surprised her relatives, who knew her as reserved and soft-spoken. Television journalists say they were astonished to meet her for the first time. "She always refused to discuss her private life," says Horacio Villalobos, who has interviewed Trevi three times on the cable music show he hosts. "Before an interview she is very shy and then suddenly she changes. She was explosive. She was acting."

In the entertainment business, there has long been suspicion about Andrade. Why did he rarely let Trevi speak at meetings? Why were there always three or four girls waiting in the car for him when he went to meetings? Patty Chapoy, a TVAzteca program host who has known Andrade for many years, said that she once asked him flat out: "Is it true that you live with a harem of all these girls?" He smiled nervously, she says, and answered: "The things they say about me."

People are saying more than ever now. Last month one of Trevi's first cousins, Brandy Ruiz, went to the police in McAllen, Texas, where she now lives, to accuse Andrade of raping her nine years ago. In the summer of 1990, when Ruiz was 16, Trevi helped persuade Ruiz's father to send her to Andrade's school in Mexico City. Ruiz said that Andrade raped her there and later again in a hotel near Los Angeles, California, that both times Trevi was nearby and that for years she was too afraid of her own family's reaction to come forward. Ruiz told NEWSWEEK: "Gloria told me it was my fault. She said, 'If you say anything, I will defend Sergio'." When the allegations appeared in Mexican newspapers, her relatives defended Trevi. Police recorded her testimony, but the statute of limitations for the California allegation has expired.

The search for Andrade and Trevi has intensified in the past few months. There have been Trevi sightings reported, but not confirmed, in Europe and Latin America. At the Mexican government's request, U.S. marshals discovered that in April the pair had been in Mission, Texas, near McAllen; several of Trevi's relatives live in that area. The mystery deepened on the afternoon of June 19, with a fire in a two-story house in McAllen that Andrade has owned since late 1995. Fire officials, who found stacks of Gloria Trevi calendars, say the blaze was set deliberately.

Trevi last appeared in public last fall, when she came before Mexico City prosecutors to deny allegations against her. Around the same time, she also taped an episode of "Cristina," a Spanish-language talk show produced in Miami, in which she tearfully makes the same denials. Trevi's relatives say they haven't seen her since. "Knowing Gloria as we do, she would have come forward if people would let her," Luisa Ruiz, an aunt, said last week. "She's being held against her will."

Then last week Trevi and Andrade returned to Mexico--or so a man claiming to be their lawyer asserts. Francisco Castell (or Gastelum, in some accounts) told reporters that the pair had come to Cuernavaca from Texas by private plane and that they planned to appear before prosecutors in Chihuahua. But prosecutors say they were never contacted, and Trevi and Andrade never arrived. The Associated Press reported that the lawyer had said Trevi planned to flee to Brazil because it has no extradition treaty with Mexico. There are no airport records or immigration records to verify that she and Andrade had even been in Mexico last week.

Delia Gonzalez, however, insists that the pair were in the country. Seven years ago, when she was 18 years old, Delia spent nine months in Andrade's group. Two months ago she went to Chihuahua to testify against Trevi and Andrade in the Karina case. This is what Gonzalez says happened in the last several days: around 10 p.m. on Friday, July 16, she received a call from Castell. He wanted to ar-range a meeting with her. She agreed to see him on Monday at 8 a.m. at a house in Cuernavaca. When she arrived, the house was surrounded by guards. She could hear a voice she recognized as Andrade's coming from a bedroom. Trevi appeared from a back room and Gonzalez agreed to talk with her alone. "She said that she wanted to reach an agreement with me in order that I stop talking and change my testimony in her favor," Gonzalez recounted. "She was crying. She looked very bad, very sad, very upset, nervous. She had lost a lot of weight. She was very thin." Gonzales told Trevi she would withdraw her testimony on one condition: "that she show me Karina and that Karina tells me from her own mouth that she is all right."

But Trevi refused to talk about Karina. And Gonzalez continues to stand by her story, a small chapter in a tale whose darkest turns may be yet to come.