The wife of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the notorious Mexican kingpin who was sentenced to life in prison in 2019, has been arrested for her alleged role in the international drug trafficking scheme.
Emma Coronel Aispuro, a 31-year-old former beauty queen, was arrested on Monday at Dulles International Airport in Virginia and faces a slew of charges for “participating in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana for importation into the U.S.,” authorities said.
Prosecutors allege Coronel conspired to assist her husband in his July 11, 2015, escape from Altiplano prison. About six months later, after Guzman was re-arrested, Coronel allegedly tried to plan another prison escape before her husband’s January 2017 extradition to the U.S.
El Chapo was convicted in 2019 for his role as a leader of the Sinaloa Cartel and ultimately sentenced to life plus 30 years in prison. He is serving his sentence at Administrative Maximum U.S. Penitentiary, or ADX, in Florence, Colorado.
Coronel attended her husband’s blockbuster trial in Brooklyn nearly every day, listening to graphic witness statements about Guzman and his illicit crimes—and many affairs. During the trial, she was reprimanded twice during the three-month trial after she slipped a banned cell phone into the courtroom and had illegal contact with Guzman.
In an interview with The New York Times, Coronel, a dual U.S.-Mexican citizen, revealed she admired her husband, whom she married on her 18th birthday and shares two daughters with. According to the criminal complaint filed on Monday, Coronel’s family had a “historical friendship with Guzman.”
“I don’t know my husband as the person they are trying to show him as,” Coronel said in 2019. “But rather I admire him as the human being that I met, and the one that I married.”
Prosecutors now allege Coronel did more than admire her spouse—but also worked alongside him for the Sinaloa cartel. Prosecutors have previously alleged the Mexican cartel was responsible for smuggling more than 100 tons of cocaine into the U.S. over 30 years and that Guzman ordered the murders of dozens of people to protect himself and his smuggling empire.
Coronel knew “Guzman was a leader of the Sinaloa Cartel and that Guzman coordinated the distribution of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, and marijuana for the purpose of unlawfully smuggling those narcotics into the United States for distribution,” prosecutors said. She was also aware that El Chapo’s sons were high-ranking members of the cartel and that her father, Ines Coronel, coordinated narcotics transports for the family.
From 2012 to 2014, Coronel relayed messages on behalf of Guzman while he attempted to avoid capture by Mexican authorities, prosecutors state. After El Chapo’s arrest in February 2014, she continued to deliver messages she received from Guzman during her prison visits—which were not monitored by Mexican authorities.
Some of those messages, the complaint states, coordinated the sale and transportation logistics of the cartel’s ongoing drug trafficking schemes, thereby making Coronel the “go-between and messenger” between her husband and the rest of the cartel.
Prosecutors also allege Coronel helped facilitate her husband’s infamous escape from Altiplano through an underground tunnel. Coronel allegedly enlisted the help of an individual, who later began to cooperate with the government, and Guzman’s sons to execute the escape plan and construct the tunnel under the shower of El Chapo’s cell.
The plan was successful, prosecutors state, and Guzman remained a fugitive until Jan. 8, 2016, when he was arrested by Mexican authorities. Following his arrest, federal authorities asked for his extradition to the U.S. to face charges, prompting El Chapo to ask his wife again to plan another escape.
“According to Cooperating Witness 1, approximately one month after Guzman’s January 8, 2016 arrest and detention, he/she met with Coronel. Coronel told Cooperating Witness 1 that Guzman again wanted to escape and wanted to know whether Cooperating Witness 1 again would assist in the escape. Cooperating Witness 1 agreed,” the complaint states.
During another meeting, Coronel gave the witness approximately $100,00 to help buy a piece of property near the Altiplano prison as part of another escape plan. The witness told authorities they “received a total of approximately $1 million in furtherance of this escape plan,” authorities said.
The complaint states that the plan was interrupted when Guzman was transferred to a facility in Juarez. “After Guzman’s transfer, according to Cooperating Witness 1, Coronel told him/her that she and others were trying to facilitate Guzman’s transfer back to Altiplano prison where an escape would be possible. Coronel stated to Cooperating Witness 1 that approximately $2 million had been paid to the Mexican official who oversaw the Mexican prisons to facilitate the transfer,” the complaint says.
Guzman, however, was never transferred out of Juarez, and all hope of his next escape vanished when he was extradited to the United States ahead of his trial.