Mexican drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s wife was arrested in the United States on Monday and accused of helping her husband run his multi-billion-dollar cartel and conspiring to plan his brazen escape from a Mexican prison in 2015.
Emma Coronel Aispuro, a 31-year-old aspiring beauty queen, was arrested at Virginia’s Dulles International Airport and is scheduled to appear in Washington on Tuesday in federal court. She is a dual U.S. and Mexican citizen.
In the gruesome, global saga surrounding Guzman, the longtime head of the Sinaloa drug cartel, her arrest is the new twist. Guzman, who fed into a legend that he and his family were all but untouchable in two dramatic jail breaks in Mexico, was extradited to the United States in 2017 and is serving life in prison.
And now he’s accused his wife, with whom he has two young daughters, of helping him run his criminal empire. Coronel was charged with intent to sell cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana in the U.S. in a single-count criminal complaint. She was also accused by the Justice Department of helping her husband escape from a Mexican prison in 2015 and of plotting a second prison escape before Guzman was extradited to the U.S.
Attorney Jeffrey Lichtman of Coronel declined to comment Monday night.
As the most powerful drug lord in Mexico, during his 25-year rule, Guzman ran a cartel responsible for smuggling mountains of cocaine and other narcotics into the United States, prosecutors said in recent court papers. His “army of sicarios,” or “hit men,” were also said to be under orders to capture, torture and kill anybody who got in his way.
His jail escapes became the stuff of legend and raised significant concerns about whether he was able to be kept accountable by the Mexican justice system. In one instance, he escaped through a milelong (1.6-kilometer-long) lighted tunnel with a motorcycle on rails through an entrance under the shower in his cell. The escape planning was comprehensive, prosecutors claim, with a key role played by his wife.
Court papers accuse Coronel of collaborating with the sons of Guzman and a witness, who is now working with the U.S. government, to coordinate the construction of the underground tunnel Guzman used to flee from Altiplano prison to avoid his extradition to the U.S. The scheme involved buying a piece of land near the jail, weapons and an armoured truck and smuggling a GPS watch to him so that they could “identify his exact whereabouts in order to build the tunnel with an accessible entry point,” the court papers state.
In 2019, Guzman was sentenced to life behind bars.
Guzman’s trial was frequently attended by Coronel, who was a beauty queen in her youth, including though evidence implicated her in his jail breaks. Since at least 2007, the two, separated in age by more than 30 years, have been married, and their twin daughters were born in 2011.
Her father, Ines Coronel Barreras, was arrested in 2013 at a warehouse with hundreds of pounds of marijuana across the border from Douglas, Arizona, with one of his sons and several other men. Months ago, the United States For his alleged drug trade, Treasury had announced financial penalties against her father.
Coronel lobbied the Mexican government to improve the jail conditions of her husband after Guzman was rearrested following his escape. And she moved to start a clothes line in his name after he was arrested in 2019.
Mike Vigil, the former director of international operations of the Law Enforcement Agency, said Coronel “has been involved in the drug trade since she was a little girl.” She knows the inner workings of the cartel in Sinaloa.
He said she may be able to cooperate.
“She’s very motivated, and that’s what her twins are,” Vigil said.