El Chapo’s wife pleads guilty, avoiding U.S. trial

Emma Coronel Aispuro pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges after she had been charged in the U.S. with helping her husband run his multibillion-dollar criminal empire. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
Emma Coronel Aispuro pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges after she had been charged in the U.S. with helping her husband run his multibillion-dollar criminal empire. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Credit: Mark Lennihan

Credit: Mark Lennihan

The wife of the infamous drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera — known as “El Chapo” — pleaded guilty Thursday to three drug-related crimes, thus avoiding a trial in the U.S.

Emma Coronel Aispuro, charged by the U.S. Department of Justice, was accused of helping her husband run his multibillion-dollar empire and then, after one of his arrests, escape in dramatic fashion from a high-security Mexican prison.

Coronel, 31, appeared in Federal District Court in Washington to enter her plea, as reported by Proceso. She was taken into custody in February at Dulles International Airport, near Washington, after a nearly two-year investigation by U.S. law enforcement officials into her role as an accomplice to her husband.

Guzman, who is serving a life sentence after being convicted of drug trafficking in 2019, was an audacious escape artist who used underground tunnels and other daring feats to outwit authorities for years.

ExploreWife of drug lord ‘El Chapo’ arrested on trafficking charges

Prosecutors allege Aispuro assisted one of his successful escapes in 2015. In that case, Guzman made a clean getaway from Altiplano prison after Aispuro paid $2 million to a Mexican official, according to reports.

She also “engaged in planning yet another prison escape” before Guzman was extradited to the U.S. in January 2017, the Justice Department said.

Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel was responsible for smuggling mountains of cocaine and other drugs into the United States during his 25-year reign, prosecutors said in recent court papers. They also said his “army” was under orders to kidnap, torture and murder anyone who got in his way.

Emma Coronel Aispuro, wife of convicted Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, will remain behind bars.
Emma Coronel Aispuro, wife of convicted Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, will remain behind bars.

Credit: KENA BETANCUR

Credit: KENA BETANCUR

Guzmán, a onetime co-leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, was convicted in 2019 at a federal trial in Brooklyn and is now serving a life sentence in the so-called Supermax in Colorado, the most secure federal prison in the United States. Coronel, his third — or possibly fourth — wife, had remained free even after a jury found him guilty, traveling between the United States and Mexico until her own arrest.

When she taken into custody by the FBI, there was intense speculation over whether Coronel, a dual U.S.-Mexican citizen, would seek to offer the government information on her husband’s allies, relatives and business partners in exchange for a lighter sentence. But her plea agreement with prosecutors in Washington does not require her to cooperate with the U.S. authorities, the person familiar with the case said.

It is unusual for law enforcement to go after the spouses of drug lords, but the case of Coronel, a former beauty queen whose family has a storied past in the drug trade, is atypical.

Prosecutors at her husband’s trial offered substantial evidence that she — like many of his mistresses — was deeply enmeshed in his criminal activity, often helping him send messages to her own father, Inés Coronel Barreras, who served as one of Guzmán’s top lieutenants before his arrest in Mexico in 2013.

Other messages introduced at the trial showed that Coronel was intimately involved in helping Guzmán evade capture by American and Mexican authorities after a botched raid in 2012 in the Mexican resort town of Cabo San Lucas. In some of the messages, Guzmán wrote to her describing how he had fled from his oceanfront villa just in time as the raiding party broke through the door of a nearby home.

Coronel was also instrumental in helping him break out of the high-security Altiplano prison near Toluca, Mexico, in 2015 after a coalition of U.S. and Mexican law enforcement and military personnel tracked him down the year before in a beach hotel in Mazatlán. Prosecutors say that Coronel, using her visitation privileges, acted as an emissary between her husband and a team of conspirators, including her own brother, who plotted the escape by building a nearly mile tunnel into the shower of his cell.

In 2016, after Guzmán was recaptured and returned to Altiplano, Coronel sought to help him escape again, hatching a plot to bribe Mexico’s top prison official, according to testimony at the trial. Before the plan could be carried out, however, Guzmán was extradited to the United States.

On the initial conspiracy count she was charged with, Coronel faced 10 years to life in prison.

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