Is This Sobbing Woman Really El Chapo’s Daughter?
Is Rosa Isela Guzman Ortiz really the drug kingpin’s secret daughter, or was The Guardian duped by a hairdresser with a wild sob story?
Last March, Jose Luis Montenegro, a Mexican journalist who wrote a brief e-book on the children of drug traffickers, published a blockbuster piece for The Guardian on Rosa Isela Guzman Ortiz, the woman he described as the unknown eldest daughter of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán.
The woman he described as a “39-year-old American” runs a “small chain of carwashes, beauty salons and cafes.” Her businesses are doing “very well,” he said, “judging by the Rolex on her wrist, the Louis Vuitton bag at her feet and the Mercedes Benz parked outside.”
No such accoutrements were in sight when Rosa Isela appeared at El Chapo’s Brooklyn court date last month, outfitted in too-long long pants that trailed through puddles. The drug lord is facing a slew of charges in the U.S. involving drug trafficking, money laundering, and firearms. Rosa Isela was accompanied by Jose Luis Gonzalez Meza, a man who presented himself as a “human rights lawyer” and claimed he once served as the drug lord’s counsel in Mexico. (He is not part of the team of Mexican attorneys who work alongside El Chapo’s American attorneys.) After an interview in Spanish, in which she said she’s happy her dad is treated better in U.S. prisons than in Mexico, Rosa Isela and Meza traipsed through the rain to hail not a Mercedes Benz but a green cab.
While Rosa Isela has maintained a low profile in the American press, the woman who sobs and shakes during El Chapo’s court appearances has caused near-endless intrigue in the Spanish-language media, and Mexican politicians have demanded an investigation into her claims about his connections. When contacted by The Daily Beast earlier this month, she was glad to tell her story to an English-speaking outlet, which she said “won’t twist things around like the Mexican media.”
After an extensive investigation into Rosa Isela’s story—a story that keeps changing and includes allegations of identity theft, cartel intrigue and FBI involvement—the evidence seems to indicate that the sobbing woman in the Brooklyn court is a Mexican-born salon worker, living in California under a host of various identities. But is she actually El Chapo’s secret daughter?
No one seems to be able to agree—least of all, El Chapo himself.
“He Took Care of His Princess”
After seeing El Chapo in court this May, Rosa Isela gushed to the media that she loved her father. But the cartel leader’s most recent wife, Emma Coronel, has disputed Rosa Isela’s paternity claims.
“When he was detained, Joaquin told me that this woman started writing letters to him, saying that her mother had told her that [El Chapo] was her father,” Coronel wrote in a letter after The Guardian article was published. “This was the first time that he heard of her."
Coronel claims El Chapo had responded to Rosa Isela as a “courtesy.” But Rosa Isela claims to have more than 15 letters to and from El Chapo, in which he calls her his daughter. “That’s more than just a courtesy,” she told The Daily Beast, while refusing to share proof of the letters. Montenegro, the Mexican reporter who first broke the story for The Guardian, said he reviewed the letters, signed by El Chapo, and verified their authenticity. (The Guardian did not comment to The Daily Beast by press time but has previously stood by its story.)
Indeed, El Chapo has numerous children, and it’s likely that some of his “narco juniors” are unknown to other family members. It wouldn’t be altogether implausible that his oldest daughter, unbeknownst to him and the family, lives in the United States. But Rosa Isela claims close ties with her father, who she says supported her from childhood, “just like any father would.”
In fact, she flaunts that claim openly. “He took care of his princess,” she wrote on Facebook this March, in Spanish, sharing a meme that read, “My daddy buys me everything I want.”
The Daily Beast contacted Rosa Isela through this unusually public Facebook page, filled with declarations of love for El Chapo and overt signs of affinity with the Sinaloa cartel. “My children are my happiness and my life is the 701,” she writes on the page, using a number associated with the Sinaloa cartel. (El Chapo appeared in that ranking on Forbes’ 2009 “richest people” list.)
Public posts on the page begin shortly after The Guardian’s first article on Rosa Isela was published.
To confirm that we were, in fact, speaking with the Rosa Isela Guzman Ortiz—the daughter of “El Chapo” Guzmán and María Luisa Ortiz, a young schoolteacher he allegedly had a fling with in the 1970s, according to The Guardian—she sent The Daily Beast a video salute.
“Hola, Andrea Noel,” she said.
Rosa Isela said she runs a number of small businesses in the United States and Mexico, which are not registered in her name. She claims that she is close to El Chapo’s mother, whom she says she helps support financially, and to the kingpin’s known children. (El Chapo’s wife says she consulted with two of his sisters, who had never heard of Rosa Isela.)
“We are all half-siblings, but in any case we are siblings, the 16 of us—I’m the oldest,” she said. “They are my little brothers and sisters, and I have to look out for them. My dad’s life—having lots of women, one after another—that’s how he was, but none of that is our fault. We have to love each other and respect one another, that’s what my dad always told us.”
After The Guardian published its story in March 2016, Rosa Isela claims the she was interrogated by the FBI and the DEA. She told The Daily Beast that they had been watching her for years before her identity was revealed publicly. “They knew everything about me,” she said.
The FBI does not confirm or deny investigations as a matter of policy, a spokeswoman from the San Diego office said. The DEA did not respond to request for comment by press time.
Among the extraordinary declarations in The Guardian’s El Chapo story is that of the paternity of Rosa Isela’s own children. Rosa Isela, The Guardian said, “is now partnered with the nephew of another drug lord, Juan José [“El Azul”] Esparragoza Moreno, with whom she has had two children.”
But before that, The Guardian revealed, “Chapo told his daughter he wanted her to marry… the 16-year-old son of another drug lord, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.” Rosa Isela repeated this claim in extensive interviews with The Daily Beast, and insisted that because of the younger Zambada, the FBI has been aware of her existence for nearly a decade.
“Thanks to My Father, I’m Somebody in the U.S.”
The 42-year-old narco-junior Vicente Zambada Niebla, the son of El Mayo—El Chapo’s longtime Sinaloa drug cartel associate—also made some incendiary claims after his 2009 arrest and subsequent extradition.
His counsel alleged that Vicente was in fact a DEA informant who had been granted immunity from future prosecution, while continuing to profit off the drug trade. The DEA, in turn, did not deny that Vicente had met with agents in Mexico, but insisted that blanket immunity was not something individual agents could just hand out to active criminals.
Speculation about what would come to light during the cartel insider’s trial was high, and in an early motion for discovery, Vicente alleged that the failed gun-running operation led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives—one which helped arm Sinaloa cartel operatives at every level, including El Chapo—was more than just a blunder and that it had a more sinister intent.
Vicente argued that the requested discovery would “confirm that the weapons received by Sinaloa Cartel members and its leaders in Operation ‘Fast & Furious’ were provided under the agreement entered into between the United States government and [a top cartel operative] on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel,” according to court documents (PDF).
Vicente also claimed that “the United States government has a policy and pattern of providing benefits, including immunity, to cartel leaders, including the Sinaloa Cartel and their members, who are willing to provide information against rival drug cartels”—the sort of immunity that he alleged he had been promised.
But after much ado about what would surely be a sensational trial on U.S. soil, Vicente struck a silent plea deal with the prosecutors in 2013 (PDF). Vicente declared himself guilty of “conspiring to knowingly and intentionally possess with intent to distribute” narcotics that made their way onto U.S. streets.
His father and El Chapo were also named as co-conspirators in the case, and their roles were outlined in the plea. Vicente agreed to forfeit more than $1 billion in assets and to “fully and truthfully cooperate” with U.S. authorities—which would mean speaking out about both senior cartel figures.
In exchange, his sentence—which could be anywhere from 10 years to life—will be determined as soon as he is finished sharing useful information with the authorities. Vicente is now considered a potential key witness against El Chapo, who is expected back in court in August. His father, El Mayo, remains fugitive.
Rosa Isela says that Vicente was her first love, and is the father of her two oldest children.
It would have been the ultimate dynastic match—two narco-juniors, prominent heirs to the dominant Sinaloa cartel, together and in love.
But, according to The Guardian, “Both fathers were annoyed, however, when she became pregnant before the marriage.”
“I was pregnant at 15, gave birth at 16, and then was a single mother for awhile,” she told The Daily Beast. “I moved to the U.S. so I could give birth here and have a better life, when I was eight months pregnant.”
They had another child after their marriage, according to The Guardian, but she is cagey about sharing too many details. According to The Guardian’s reporter, their first son was named Archivaldo Zambada Guzmán, after his grandfathers. Rosa Isela denied this to The Daily Beast, instead claiming that her youngest son is named Archivaldo—the son she supposedly had with a different cartel member, the nephew of Juan José Esparragoza Moreno.
Curiously, the woman who was known as El Chapo’s oldest daughter before Rosa Isela emerged, was arrested at the San Diego-Tijuana border in 2012. Giselle Guzman was 29 at the time, and very pregnant—just like in the story that Rosa Isela told about herself to The Daily Beast.
But, according to The Guardian, Rosa Isela didn’t cross the border to give birth—as she claimed to The Daily Beast—she instead arrived in the U.S. just before her pregnancy, to receive treatment for “potentially cancerous tumours on her back” at a San Diego hospital.
Before Rosa Isela’s unexpected pregnancy, she had been living in Tijuana, where she says was sent by her mother’s family after stabbing her abusive stepfather at the age of 10.
“It’s true. I did that,” she told The Daily Beast. “But I didn’t kill him, I was just defending myself. When that happened I was sent to a center for juveniles in Tijuana. I was sick of being beaten, no one would defend me, so I stabbed him. I was angry.”
“I think if I would have had a normal dad and mom, instead of how it was, that wouldn’t have happened. But thanks to my father, even though they judge him and criticize him, I’m somebody in the U.S.,” she said. “In a letter he says that he’s proud of me… because I’m the only one of his children who has done it right, who has moved forward.”
“He Doesn’t Believe She’s His Daughter”
Rosa Isela’s paternity claims are not supported by the El Chapo’s defense attorneys, the only people currently able to meet with the druglord.
In a March court filing, El Chapo’s attorneys disputed prosecutors’ assertions that Rosa Isela is one of two relatives—alongside El Chapo’s wife Emma Coronel—whom the drug lord could elect to visit.
“Regarding the ‘daughter’ it seems peculiar indeed that the government is prepared to allow Rosa Isela Guzman Ortiz to establish her paternity through an article in The Guardian, but required Ms. Coronel to submit legal documentation of her relationship to Mr. Guzman,” the attorneys wrote. “Mr. Guzman does not believe that Ms. Guzman Ortiz is in fact his daughter and maintains that he has no relationship with her.”
Increased access to communications with his wife has been a key part of the requests filed by Chapo’s federal defenders. Among other things, they argue, he needs to consult with her about retaining a private attorney.
He has no plans to make such requests of Rosa Isela, they said in court filings.
Rosa Isela told The Daily Beast in the first of several video chats, phone calls, texts, and in-person interviews that she plans to keep attending her father’s court appearances, and claimed that she’d been tricked by The Guardian writer who first revealed her identity.
Jose Luis Montenegro, The Guardian’s freelancer, independently obtained her identity documents to corroborate her story, she alleged. And the two never met in person at a cafe, as the article floridly describes, but instead spoke over FaceTime, she said.
“I never gave him anything,” she said. “I don’t know where he got it all from, but he found documents that even I don’t have. I don’t know how, but he really did his homework.”
But Montenegro told The Daily Beast that they did meet in person in July 2015, just days after El Chapo’s unbelievable escape from a maximum security prison in Mexico, through a mile-long tunnel leading out from the drain of the shower in his cell.
“She threw, literally threw, her [Mexican voter] identification card at me,” Montenegro said, adding that Rosa Isela then provided letters, photographs, and other identification documents, which he said he verified as authentic. “I have some exclusive photographs that I haven’t been able to publish because of an agreement,” he told The Daily Beast.
“I had no idea she existed until she contacted me,” he added, describing the meeting in which she described alleged collusion between Mexican officials that allowed El Chapo’s escape. “After my book came out, she sent me a message: ‘You want to know about narcos, why don’t you ask me directly?’”
He also said he confirmed Rosa Isela’s identity with Francisco Villa Gurrola, an evangelical pastor in El Chapo’s hometown of Badiraguato, who in the span of a year transformed from being an “old acquaintance” of El Chapo’s mother, as reported in a Vice article in 2015, to being her “close friend,” as reported by Montenegro.
“I know [Rosa Isela] and I can tell you she’s a good woman—she’s the first daughter that Joaquín had with a woman in Jalisco,” the pastor allegedly told Montenegro.
In an interview with the Mexican outlet Rio Doce, however, Villa Gurrola clarified that they only knew each other on social media.
“I personally don”t know [Rosa Isela], it's through social media that is have a friendship with her,” the pastor said.
Montenegro now writes for the Spanish-language website of the Russian propaganda outlet RT, where this past May he published a follow-up interview with Rosa Isela in which she recounts her tearful visit to the courthouse, and concludes, “My children also miss their grandfather.”
The Guardian has also published two follow-up pieces after first introducing Rosa Isela to the world, repeating claims that El Chapo visited her twice in the U.S. while on the lam, and that Rosa Isela is willing to take a DNA test to prove she’s El Chapo’s child.
Still, last September, The Guardian was forced to issue an apology and delete two original articles reported by Montenegro, in which he made erroneous accusations about Mexican first lady Angelica Rivera’s alleged property ties. Montenegro responded by deleting his Twitter account. The Guardian has not retracted Montenegro’s other three articles, about Rosa Isela. (UPDATE: After publication of this story, Montenegro has once again deleted his Twitter account.)
Rosa Isela insists that her father operated his drug enterprise with approval from the Mexican government, and Montenegro wrote the story of this alleged betrayal perpetrated by dirty politicians and cartel rivals.
“In an exclusive interview, Rosa Isela Guzman Ortiz says Mexican officials helped [El Chapo] evade U.S. patrols and that he bankrolled the election of senior politicians,” reads the subhead of one such article.
“My dad is not a criminal,” she told The Guardian. “The government is guilty.”
She repeated similar claims this week, while speaking to The Daily Beast: “They are going after him for drug trafficking, but that’s it. My dad never killed anyone, I know that for a fact.”
The Guardian story stated she’d been in a car with El Chapo in 1993, when a rival cartel’s hitmen accidentally assassinated cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo instead. But last week, she denied ever saying that.
“I had just given birth to my daughter [in San Diego],” she said in a video chat. “[My dad] loves my children, and he wouldn’t ever do anything to put them in harm’s way.”
She also insisted that El Chapo’s 2015 escape from the Altiplano prison, following his arrest the previous year, was the result of an agreement with the Mexican government.
After The Guardian first made her existence known, Rosa Isela lashed out at Montenegro, claiming that she never agreed to an interview, did not know she was being recorded, and that he had printed a series of lies about her.
“She is attempting to contradict herself, first, so that charges won’t be brought against her, and secondly, in order to not complicate her father’s legal situation,” Montenegro said, in her defense. “The resemblance to [her father] is remarkable,” he insisted.
Clips of those recorded conversations between Montenegro and Rosa Isela were shared with the media, and Univision published photos of purported letters sent to Rosa Isela by El Chapo. A Mexican birth certificate and Mexican voter ID in the name of Rosa Isela Guzman Ortiz—created in 2015, the year of her Guardian interview—were also published by Univision.
“To Me, He’s My Daddy”
According to Montenegro, the fact that Isela was allowed into the courtroom backs up her paternity claims. “They don’t just let anyone into the courtroom,” he told The Daily Beast.
Rosa Isela told The Daily Beast about the same: The reason she’s able to get into the courtroom to weep in the first place is because she was recognized as a relative by court authorities, she says, who knew she was on her way to see her dad from the moment she left her Southern California home.
Only that’s not quite true.
“It’s a public courtroom,” Michelle Gelernt, one of El Chapo’s defense attorneys, told The Daily Beast. “It’s first come, first served.”
What, we asked Rosa Isela, is the end game here? Why come forward with her story?
“We want [El Chapo] to cooperate with the government, tell his story, and be granted house arrest in my house, that’s what I want,” she said. “My dad’s old, and when you said that I’d been seen crying, that’s obvious. Blood hurts. I think it’s less painful for [his current wife, Emma Coronel] than it is for his children, his own blood.
“It was frustrating to see him [in court], not understanding English, unable to explain to him what was happening. The impotence made me very sad... To see him like that—vulnerable—it’s surprising, makes me want to jump over the barrier and say ‘Hey, leave my dad alone,’” she explained.
“To me, he’s my daddy, he’s always been, so seeing him like that, turning as if to say ‘don’t cry,’ I just want to hug him and say everything’s going to be alright,” she explained. “I see him, just nodding, answering everyone, ‘Si, señor. Si, señor,’ I think, oh my God, someone help. I just want to explain to him, this is what’s happening.”
El Chapo has a translator simultaneously explaining everything that is being said to him in court. And Michelle Gelernt, the defense attorney, also speaks Spanish.
Rosa Isela Guzman Ortiz sent The Daily Beast a few photographs that purportedly show her two oldest children, as well as a copy of her California ID, and a plane ticket in her name, on the condition that they not be published.
Both showed her legal name simply as Icela Guzman.
A Rosa by Any Other Name
That name variation had never been reported before.
After first seeing the woman whom The Guardian called Rosa Isela Guzman Ortiz in court on May 5, then interviewing her extensively, The Daily Beast tracked down the salon where she works based on the internal color scheme and writing on salon windows, visible in Spanish-language video interviews with her, which showed that the barbershop specialized in “tapers, mohawks, and fades.”
This would be just one of a string of hair salons she owns across California, according to her statements as printed by The Guardian.
Although Rosa Isela repeatedly told The Daily Beast that her businesses were not registered in her name “because the government is watching,” this barbershop, at least, was registered to a woman named Rosa Isela at some point.
Only it wasn’t registered to “Rosa Isela Guzman Ortiz” or “Icela Guzman.”
Instead, the salon belonged to a California woman named Rosa Isela Gonzalez de Campos, or Rosa Campos, who lives about 40 minutes outside San Diego with a man whose last name is Campos.
The barbershop where Rosa Isela has been previously interviewed is listed as Rosa Campos’ business on 2013 bankruptcy filings. The man named Campos is linked to a maintenance and repair company, and the couple appear to have had a limited partnership registered to their home address as well.
Rosa Isela Gonzalez de Campos is 43, according to public records. Rosa Isela Guzman Ortiz is 40, according to The Guardian, although both of their birthdays fall during the same month and on the same day. And although she presented herself to The Daily Beast as Icela Guzman, in online reviews of the hair salon customers call her “Rosie.”
She also appears in old salon advertisement as Rosy.
Notably, early skeptical reports from the Spanish-language press suggested that Rosa Isela Guzman Ortiz may in fact be a Tijuana native named Rosa Isela Gonzalez Ortiz, with a date of birth that is close to—but two days off from—the Rosa Isela Gonzalez de Campos who lives near San Diego.
If Rosa Isela Gonzalez Ortiz had married a man with the surname Campos, and taken his name, she would traditionally become Rosa Isela Gonzalez de Campos.
When confronted with this extraordinary coincidence, Rosa Isela—or Icela—told The Daily Beast by phone that she was not Rosa Isela Gonzalez de Campos, and did not know that person.
But later, she told a complicated story of identity theft—sort of.
“I sued a woman who worked for me, who stole my identity, and opened two businesses in my name, and not even in my name, my name, but with her last names,” she said. “The DEA looked into all of this. She used my identity. She is Gonzalez Campos. But her first name is Flor.
“It’s all been twisted, but if you come to the salon, I’ll show you my documents, and then you can stop with all this investigating,” she told The Daily Beast by phone.
When a Daily Beast reporter called the barbershop on Thursday, an employee said that a woman named Rosy was the employer—and that she’d be there in the morning. Another woman then picked up the phone to help her out.
“Rosy? Rosy Campos?” the reporter asked. “Oh, OK,” she responded. Then the phone line cut out.
Minutes later, a Texas number called our reporter. The woman on the other end identified herself as Rosa Campos.
She denied knowing Rosa Isela, or Icela, Guzman, though later acknowledged seeing her on TV. She repeatedly denied ever encountering her, or knowing that she worked at the barbershop.
This woman, “Rosa Campos” in Texas, had once owned the barbershop, she said over the phone. But now she is just an employee, the woman said. She sold the salon and couldn’t remember to whom, but said The Daily Beast is trying to make a story out of nothing.
When a reporter told her that the woman known as Rosa Isela, or Icela, Guzman appears to have worked at the barbershop for at least four years—she appears in the 2013 advertisement, above, as Rosy—the woman claiming to be Rosa Campos continued to insist they’d never met.
After hanging up, she texted the reporter “definitive proof” that she was not Icela Guzman.
“This is me... like I said I look nothing like her,” she texted.
“I would really appreciate if you stop calling me to the shop, co workers are getting annoyed with your multiple calls... you are gonna get me fired... if you keep on calling Im gonna have to go with the authorities and report you for harassment,” she texted.
The reporter had called the shop just twice—the second time after being cut off.
The Daily Beast traced the above photo to the Facebook page of a Texas woman named Wendy Medina. (Entering the phone number into Facebook showed that it was linked to that page, and it was one of many selfies uploaded by the user.) Using publicly available information—including the unique names of her children, and her date of birth—The Daily Beast was able to match “Wendy” to public records for a woman in Laredo, Texas, with no known addresses in California.
“Rosa Campos you really look a lot like Wendy,” the reporter texted.
“I do??? OMG really??? Wow,” she responded, and threatened to go to the authorities if the reporter didn’t leave her alone.
When a different Daily Beast reporter arrived at the California barbershop Friday morning, looking for “Rosy,” he was told she’d be there in an hour.
Only the woman there when he returned was The Guardian’s Rosa Isela Guzman Ortiz, the woman presenting herself to The Daily Beast as Icela Guzman.
She responded to the name Rosy, but denied being Rosa Campos, or Rosa Isela Gonzalez de Campos.
“Everyone is Rosa,” she explained. “There [are] three Rosas in my barbershop.”
It gets weirder.
As they spoke, Rosa Isela, or Icela, gave our reporter—who identified himself as being from The Daily Beast—a haircut.
She chuckled at his questions, and told him she’d spent the morning at another, related barbershop, in Escondido.
She refused to allow the reporter to pay for the haircut, or tell him how much it cost.
Rosa Isela insisted that she is just Icela Guzman, and always has been—only spelled Icela, not the Rosa Isela Guzman Ortiz she had been identified as in media reports.
And she even let the reporter speak to the “real” Rosa Campos, who she first claimed to not know, by phone, by dialing a woman saved on her cellphone as “Wendy”—the same identity linked to the woman who presented herself as Rosa Campos to a different reporter the day before.
Rosa Isela also gave the reporter a cellphone number for follow-up queries. The number appears in a public records search as one of several linked to “Rosa Campos,” and it is also linked to the Facebook page for Rosa Isela Guzman.
The reporter then visited the California home address of Rosa Isela Gonzalez de Campos. A young woman outside the house said Rosa wasn’t there.
She offered her first name, which matched that of a 25-year-old resident of the address, who carries neither the Guzman name, nor the Zambada name, nor the name of the cartel nephew Rosa Isela is reportedly now married to, Esparragoza, as The Guardian’s account suggests. Her last name is Campos.
The police were called on The Daily Beast’s reporter shortly after arriving in the neighborhood, and three officers in two vans suggested that he leave.
Then the reporter drove to Escondido to visit two related barbershops that bear a name similar to the one in Vista, where Rosa Isela gave him a haircut—barbershops Rosa Isela claims to own. At the first shop, a barber said she recognized a picture of Rosa Isela but that she did not work there, she worked at the barbershop in Vista; the barber also said she did not know the woman’s name. (A second barber in the shop said she didn’t recognize her.)
At the second shop, the reporter asked to speak to a manager and was directed to a woman with purple hair. When she looked at the picture of Rosa Isela, she said, “She doesn’t work here and I don’t know who she is. Everyone who works here is here right now.”
There were about five women cutting hair at that time.
Hours later, a reporter in New York got an angry text message from Wendy in Texas that read, “I am Rosa Campos in the U.S. and Wendy Medina was [the name] given to me when I was born.”
“I will sue you if I have problems with immigration and/or any government agency,” she said. “What you are doing is wrong and my life or Ms Guzman's life is none of your business.”
The woman briefly stopped texting after a reporter offered to explain the public records trail that led to the conclusion that Wendy and Rosa Campos were two distinct people.
Rosa Isela, or Icela, Guzman then called the reporter she had been communicating with, and explained that “Rosa Campos’s husband” had called the police. “Rosa Campos,” she said, had just left for Texas that morning. Rosa Isela now claimed she not only knew Rosa Campos, but was also her employer. She was trying, Rosa Isela said, to protect “Rosa Campos’s” identity.
“I Want to Change My Name to Fix this Problem”
Part of what makes Rosa Isela’s, or Icela’s, true identity difficult to track down is how tricky her individual claims are to substantiate, and the cross-national nature of her family history.
According to Rosa Isela, as a result of The Guardian’s story, U.S. authorities seized her Mercedes—the other Mercedes, she said, since she now has a new one registered in the name Icela Guzman—and froze her bank accounts.
After telling The Daily Beast that she lives with her husband, a businessman with his own company—who maybe was or maybe wasn’t the nephew of a drug trafficker, as The Guardian described—she then switched stories, explaining that after the media flurry that followed the original article, her husband had left her, with nothing.
“I’m all alone, like a dog,” she now said. “Thanks to the newspapers, he left.”
When asked to provide photographs of her with El Chapo—photos that she said in a previous interview that she had lots of, “like any normal family”—she claimed that she has no photographs. She shouted, “NO!” but later apologized for yelling in a text message sent to the reporter she had been speaking with.
Rosa Isela said she doesn’t know where The Guardian got pictures from, because even she doesn’t have any photographs.
“He [Montenegro] investigated everything really fast, I don’t know how he did it. I didn’t give him anything, he figured it out. Ask him,” she said, insisting that The Daily Beast ask Montenegro, the author of The Guardian article, to confirm her identity.
“I don’t want to have anything to do with him anymore,” she then exploded, while alternately insisting that “everything Montenegro said was true,” but also that his story was “distorted” and is “full of half truths and lies.”
“One thing that is true, is I said I’d fuck up my dad’s lady, for coming out and saying that I was lying,” she said. “That’s true. I did say that.”
Because of the article, she said, she’s been sued by the family of the Rosa Isela Gonzalez Ortiz who was born in Tijuana, sued by a family in the state of Chihuahua who claims that she has an unclaimed child floating around, and that she herself sued the woman using the name Rosa Isela Gonzalez de Campos in California for—partial—identity theft. (The Daily Beast wasn’t able to locate this lawsuit in San Diego court records.)
She said she threatened to sue The Guardian, despite the fact that she has since granted Montenegro multiple interviews in which he firmly reiterates her identity as the drug lord’s eldest daughter. Then, she implied that she will sue whoever prints the next series of “lies” about her.
When The Daily Beast contacted Montenegro, he insisted that “The Guardian stands behind this story,” and said Rosa Isela is most likely “following a legal or media strategy to protect her father.” According to “all of the documents she gave me,” he said, “she is Rosa Isela Guzman.”
But as of 2017, her legal name as printed on identification documents reviewed by The Daily Beast is Icela Guzman.
After The Daily Beast told Montenegro that Rosa Isela had spun a rather convoluted tale—identity theft, lawsuits, stolen documents, an ongoing FBI and DEA investigation, and government harassment—he said, “I don’t have a comment on that.”
Indeed, The Daily Beast’s investigation found that the woman presenting herself as Rosa Isela Guzman Ortiz, and alternately as Icela Guzman, appears to actually be a Mexican native who married and became Rosa Isela Gonzalez de Campos, and who’s lived in California for years.
Rosa Isela Gonzalez de Campos said in bankruptcy court filings that she is also commonly known simply as Rosa Campos. The bankruptcy statement says she owns the barbershop where The Daily Beast interviewed the woman who presented documents identifying herself as Icela.
The barbershop is not in the city it is widely reported to be in, and its official name was not readily volunteered by Rosa Isela herself. Searching for the business, under its name, on the California Secretary of State business search engine does not yield any results. It was only on a public records database often used by journalists that The Daily Beast got a result for the owners of the barbershop. (Efforts to reach the woman’s co-owner and husband were unsuccessful.)
And it’s only with the name “Rosa Campos” that the mystery starts to unravel. To practice barbery in California, one needs a license. There is no license on record for a Rosa Isela Guzman Ortiz, or Icela Guzman, but there is one for a Rosa Isela Gonzalez de Campos.
And Rosa Campos is not a woman named Flor whom Rosa Isela said she is suing for partial identity theft. But Rosa Campos does know a woman named Flor—the two mutually sought out restraining orders against one another. Rosa got a temporary restraining order against Flor in June 2011; Flor got one against Rosa in January 2012, according to court records.
That Flor’s last name was not Gonzalez de Campos. (The Daily Beast is withholding the last name to protect her identity.) Rosa Campos also sought out a restraining order against a woman named Janice in October 2011.
When asked, Rosa Isela, or Icela, claimed that this Flor was now also Janice.
But, of course, the restraining orders were between Flor or Janice and Rosa Campos—the woman Rosa Isela first denied knowing, then claimed was Flor, then claimed is actually an employee whose birthname is Wendy Medina.
Meanwhile, after seeing Rosa Isela’s recently minted American documents showing the name of Icela Guzman, The Daily Beast searched for a name change to this new spelling of Icela.
It turns out, in fact, she had claimed to be a victim of identity theft.
That’s what Rosa Campos said when she asked a judge to officially change her name to Icela Guzman, one month after The Guardian’s story was published. “I have been a victim of identity theft under my married name of Rosa Campos,” she wrote, marking down “Icela Guzman” as her proposed new name. “I want to change my name to fix this problem.”
The birthday listed on the documents below falls on the same month and day as the one Rosa Isela provided to The Daily Beast—except it’s three years earlier than the date Rosa Isela gave us and The Guardian (the date matches that of Rosa Isela Gonzalez de Campos). Additionally, both the Rosa Campos in the name change form, and the Rosa Isela Gonzalez de Campos who claimed the barbershop in her bankruptcy filings, were born in Jalisco.
So Rosa Campos—the self-admitted married name of Rosa Isela Gonzalez de Campos—is now legally Icela Guzman, the same person whom The Guardian called Rosa Isela Guzman Ortiz, the one sobbing in court when El Chapo appears. Mystery solved… except the mystery of why Rosa Isela, or Icela, has been spinning such a strange web of contradictions.
The notoriety of being El Chapo’s “daughter” landed Rosa Isela a slew of media interviews and requests, but it’s not clear whether that resulted in any financial gain. (She had filed for bankruptcy in 2013, two years before before presenting herself to Jose Luis Montenegro for The Guardian.)
Perhaps the most obvious gain is that of community, a way to carve a spot for herself within the pantheon of narco-cultura.
Rosa Isela has nearly 3,000 followers on Facebook, and her photos are peppered with support and love from other fans of El Chapo and believers in the fantasy of cartel life. The Texas woman named Wendy, who posed as “Rosa Campos,” also has pictures on her Facebook of guns, bling, and of Vicente Zambada Niebla—the man Rosa Isela claims fathered her two eldest children—along with unctuous words of affection for El Chapo, whom she seems to fawn over.
Or maybe it was simply a runaway tale that got too real too fast after an internationally respected publication gave it legitimacy, and Rosa Isela struggled to catch up.
When asked by The Daily Beast if Rosa Isela had tangled herself in similar contradictions while speaking with The Guardian, Montenegro explained that he is no longer interested in getting wrapped up in any cartel-related reporting, due to safety concerns.
“I don’t want to have anything to do with this,” Montenegro insisted.
“To me this subject is over,” he said, “and not worth going around and around on.” He asked to not be mentioned in this follow-up investigation into his initial report.
“I Don’t Know What Mess You’ve Made”
On Friday evening, Rosa Isela called one of our reporters, who, after a long back-and-forth, explained that a woman named Rosa Campos had legally changed her name to Icela Guzman in the state of California in July 2016.
“That’s impossible. That’s impossible,” she said. “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know what mess you’ve made, but here’s what’s going to happen, I’m going to tell you: This lady [“Rosa Campos,” or Wendy Medina] is going to take out a restraining order, and I’m going to have to sue you.”
Over the weekend, after threatening to sue The Daily Beast’s reporters, Rosa Isela’s Facebook page uploaded a new cover photo—an image of Chucky, the serial killer doll from Child’s Play, with the words “You’re Fucked” superimposed. Her new profile image is also Chucky. It reads, in Spanish, “Then they ask why they got killed.”
“Go ahead keep fucking with me,” she wrote. “Don’t complain later.”
—with additional reporting by Oliver Jones from Southern California