Standing in a federal court dressed in a green prison jumpsuit and white face mask, the wife of imprisoned Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman admitted to trafficking narcotics for his Sinaloa cartel and helping plan his spectacular escape through a tunnel under a Mexican prison in 2015.
Emma Coronel Aispuro Guzman, speaking in Spanish to an English translator, pleaded guilty June 10 in Washington, D.C., to conspiracy to distribute heroin and other illegal drugs into the United States, conspiracy to launder money and benefiting financially from Guzman’s cartel.
“I find you guilty as charged,” Judge Rudolph Contreras said after hearing the defendant give up her rights to a trial or appeal.
The 31-year-old Coronel was looking at a sentence of 10 years to life in prison for the drug trafficking conspiracy count, plus a $10 million fine. However, since federal prosecutors view her participation in the cartel as relatively marginal, insiders said she is likely to receive a reduced sentence, according to the New York Times.
Prosecutors also decided against requiring her to furnish information on other people potentially involved in cartel activities, sources told the Times. That was probably to protect her and her family from retaliation.
Federal agents arrested Coronel in February at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., and she has remained in jail ever since.
In the warrant for her arrest, FBI Special Agent Eric McGuire contended that Guzman and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, who co-led the Sinaloa cartel from 1989 to 2016, “formed the most prolific drug trafficking partnership in the world.”
McGuire argued that Coronel was a willing participant in the cartel. He accused her of conspiring to distribute at least one kilogram of heroin, five kilograms of cocaine, 1,000 kilograms of marijuana and 500 grams of methamphetamine.
Coronel first met Guzman at a dance celebrating her nomination as beauty queen of the Coffee and Guava Festival in Canelas, Mexico, in 2007. She was 17 and he was 49. Guzman, who arrived by plane, entered the party carrying an AK-47 rifle, accompanied by an entourage of his henchmen. He wasted little time proposing marriage to the teenager right then and there, and she accepted. Coronel won the festival crown days later, amid rumors that Guzman bribed the judges, which she has always denied. The two were married in Canelas when she turned 18 later that year.
She was born in California in 1989 while her Mexican mother visited friends, and is a dual citizen of the United States and Mexico. She gave birth to twin daughters from Guzman in Los Angeles in 2011.
Based on interviews with former Sinaloa cartel members, McGuire determined that Coronel’s father, Ines Coronel Barreras, was a Sinaloa drug trafficker and that his daughter knew full well the scope of the cartel’s activities, including its large shipments of heroin, marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines to the United States.
While Guzman was on the run from Mexican authorities from 2012 to 2014, Coronel allegedly sent him messages to further the cartel’s trafficking and avoid capture. After his arrest in 2014, she again communicated operational details from the cartel while visiting him at the maximum-security Altiplano prison in Mexico, the FBI said.
She met with several men, one who became a cooperating witness for the feds in Washington, to inform them of Guzman’s plans for an escape from Altiplano through an underground tunnel. Coronel joined the plot to avoid Guzman’s extradition to the United States and assure his continued control of the cartel, authorities said.
Coronel then directed Guzman’s three sons to buy a piece of land near the prison, arrange to build a warehouse and a tunnel underneath it, and smuggle a GPS watch to Guzman so that shaft builders could pinpoint the location of his cell.
On July 11, 2015, Guzman made his incredible prison break from beneath the shower stall of his cell down into the passageway to freedom.
When Mexican officers caught Guzman on January 8, 2016 and delivered him back to Altiplano, Coronel resumed her efforts to break him out of custody to prevent his repatriation to America, according to the FBI. She offered a man, the same one who would serve as a prosecution witness, $100,000 to buy property beside the prison and later gave him another $1 million.
After Mexico transferred Guzman to a prison in Ciudad Juarez, Coronel allegedly approached the same man, telling him the new scheme was to have Guzman reassigned to Altiplano and that a top Mexican official had received a $2 million bribe to help do it.
But Guzman was extradited to the United States on January 19, 2017. Two years later, after a three-month trial, a federal jury convicted him of drug trafficking and money laundering charges. A judge imposed a sentence of life in prison plus 30 years.
He is serving his term at the ADX “supermax” federal penitentiary in Florence, Colorado. It is not yet known where Coronel will serve her time.
Jeff Burbank is content development specialist for The Mob Museum. A longtime journalist and former university lecturer, he is the author of five books, including Las Vegas Babylon: True Tales of Glitter, Glamour, and Greed, License to Steal: Nevada’s Gaming Control System in the Megaresort Age and Lost Las Vegas. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.