Wife of drug lord El Chapo arrested in US on drug charges

Emma Coronel Aispuro is accused of helping her husband run his multibillion-dollar cartel and plot his escape from a Mexican prison

The wife of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was arrested in the US and accused of helping her husband run his multibillion-dollar cartel and plot his escape from a Mexican prison in 2015.

Emma Coronel Aispuro, a 31-year-old former beauty queen, was arrested at Dulles International Airport in Virginia on Monday and is expected to appear in federal court in Washington on Tuesday. She is a dual citizen of the US and Mexico.

Her arrest is the latest twist in the bloody, international saga involving Guzman, the longtime chief of the Sinaloa drug cartel.

Guzman, whose two prison escapes in Mexico fed into a legend that he and his family were almost untouchable, was extradited to the US in 2017 and is serving life in prison.

Now his wife, with whom he has two daughters, has been charged with helping him run his criminal empire.

In a single-count criminal complaint, Ms Coronel was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamines, heroin and marijuana in the US. The Justice Department also accused her of helping her husband escape from a Mexican prison in 2015 and participating in the planning of a second prison escape before Guzman was extradited to the US.

Ms Coronel’s lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, declined to comment on Monday night.

As Mexico’s most powerful drug lord, Guzman ran a cartel responsible for smuggling large amounts of cocaine and other drugs into the US during his 25-year reign, prosecutors said in recent court papers.

They also said his “army of sicarios", or hit men, was under orders to kidnap, torture and kill anyone who got in his way.

His prison breaks became the stuff of legend and raised serious questions about whether Mexico’s justice system was capable of holding him accountable.

In one case, he escaped using an entrance under the shower in his cell that led to a 1.6-kilometre lighted tunnel with a motorcycle on rails. The planning for the escape was extensive, prosecutors said, with his wife playing a key role.

 Emma Coronel Aispuro, wife of Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, leaves federal court in New York. AP
 Emma Coronel Aispuro, wife of Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, leaves federal court in New York. AP

Court papers say that Ms Coronel worked with Guzman’s sons and a witness, who is now co-operating with the US government, to organise the construction of the underground tunnel that Guzman used to escape from the Altiplano prison to prevent his extradition to the US.

The plot included purchasing a piece of land near the prison, firearms and an armoured lorry and smuggling a GPS watch into the prison so they could “pinpoint his exact whereabouts so as to construct the tunnel with an entry point accessible to him", court papers say.

Guzman was sentenced to life in prison in 2019.

Ms Coronel, who was a beauty queen in her teens, regularly attended Guzman’s trial, even when she was implicated in his prison breaks.

The two, separated in age by more than 30 years, have been together since at least 2007, and their twin daughters were born in 2011.

Her father, Ines Coronel Barreras, was arrested in 2013 with one of his sons and several other men in a warehouse with hundreds of kilograms of marijuana across the border from Douglas, Arizona.

Months earlier, the US Treasury announced financial sanctions against her father for his alleged drug trafficking.

After Guzman was arrested following his escape, Ms Coronel lobbied the Mexican government to improve her husband’s prison conditions. After he was convicted in 2019, she launched a clothing line in his name.

Mike Vigil, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s former chief of international operations, said Ms Coronel “has been involved in the drug trade since she was a little girl".

"She knows the inner workings of the Sinaloa cartel," he said.

He said she could be willing to co-operate with authorities.

“She has a huge motivation, and that is her twins,” Mr Vigil said.

Updated: February 24, 2021 04:56 PM

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