There is a sense that "this is a message to all the other corrupt leaders," said Humberto Castillo, a 55-year-old retired teacher from Mexico State, who was reading a newspaper story about Gordillo's arrest while he waited for his daughter to come out of a job interview. "I thought she was untouchable."

For many, Gordillo stood as a symbol of the powers that dominate Mexico. She was a favorite of newspaper cartoonists because of her immediately recognizable face and designer clothes and accessories. Prosecutors said she spent nearly $3 million in purchases at Neiman Marcus department stores using union funds, as well as $17,000 in U.S. plastic surgery bills and $1 million to buy a home near San Diego.

It was unclear if the arrest would force Gordillo out of her union leadership position. Mexican mining union boss Napoleon Gomez Urrutia has continued to hold his post more than four years after he moved to Canada amid accusations that he misappropriated $55 million in union funds.

Many Mexicans immediately began suggesting prosecution of other union leaders. Opposition parties mentioned the boss of the oil workers union, Carlos Romero Deschamps, who, according to Mexican news media, gave his son a $2 million Ferrari and whose daughter posted Facebook photos of her trips to Europe aboard private jets and yachts.

Romero Deschamps' immunity from prosecution as a legislator â¿¿ a status he still enjoys â¿¿ helped keep him from going to jail in a scandal over his union's illegal $61.3 million campaign donation to the PRI in 2000.

But if Deschamps stayed within the womb of the PRI while under fire, Gordillo was unusually defiant, allying at times with presidents from the National Action Party, helping create a new political party and finally bolting from the PRI, where she had long been an influential figure. Many credited her party with pulling enough votes to swing the narrow 2006 election to National Action's Felipe Calderon.

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