The indictment of the wife of convicted Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera has revealed her alleged role in the organization, ranging from her husband's messenger to coordinating his spectacular jailbreaks, yet seemingly always one step removed from the drug trafficking itself.
Federal prosecutors have charged Emma Coronel Aispuro, the 31-year-old third wife of Guzmán Loera, with one count of international drug conspiracy, according to a February 22 news release from the US Justice Department. Coronel, a dual US-Mexican citizen who grew up in the northern state of Sinaloa, was arrested at Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
From about 2014 through the beginning of 2019, Coronel conspired with her husband and his Sinaloa Cartel associates to import cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine into the United States, prosecutors said in the criminal complaint.
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Coronel is also alleged to have assisted El Chapo in his 2015 movie-like escape from the maximum security Altiplano prison through an elaborate, mile-long tunnel equipped with lighting, ventilation and a motorcycle. And she was allegedly planning her husband's next prison break before he was extradited to the United States in 2017.
At her initial court appearance February 23, Coronel was remanded and will remain jailed in Virginia. If convicted, she faces a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life, plus a fine of up to $10 million.
Coronel's arrest comes just two years after a US jury found El Chapo guilty in February 2019 of charges ranging from drug trafficking to running a criminal enterprise. He was later sentenced to life in prison, which he is serving at the maximum security prison known as ADX Florence in Colorado, nicknamed the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.”
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The accusations against Coronel portray her as more of a go-between than an international drug trafficker intimately involved in the Sinaloa Cartel’s daily operations.
It's one of many often overlooked roles women have played in drug trafficking organizations, where they have at times emerged as high-profile traffickers like Colombia's Griselda Blanco or Marllory Chacón Rossell, known as Guatemala's "Queen of the South."
The criminal complaint paints Coronel as a low-key but knowledgeable Sinaloa Cartel insider, which could prove useful to US authorities in other cases against cartel members.
Special Agent Eric McGuire of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said in the criminal complaint that Coronel “understood the scope of the Sinaloa Cartel’s drug trafficking” and was “aware of multi-ton” drug shipments sent to the United States.
But it appears Coronel remained largely removed from El Chapo's drug trafficking activities.
Prosecutors accuse her of conspiring to traffic just one kilogram of heroin, five kilograms of cocaine, one ton of marijuana and 500 grams of methamphetamine. For context, US agents seized more than 1,000 kilograms of methamphetamine linked to the Sinaloa Cartel in just one October 2020 bust in California. Prosecutors also did not link her to any specific shipments.
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Coronel seemingly being a step away from the drug trafficking itself was probably deliberate. It meant she could more easily serve as her husband's messenger, especially when he was jailed or on the lam.
Coronel relayed messages on behalf of El Chapo as he was on the run from both Mexican and US authorities, as well as following his arrests in 2014 and 2016, according to the criminal complaint. She acted “as a go-between and messenger between [El Chapo] and his lieutenants, associates, and sons,” prosecutors said.
Federal prosecutors say her importance grew after El Chapo’s second arrest in 2014. El Chapo used Coronel to tell his sons to purchase firearms, an armored truck and a warehouse near the prison to facilitate his eventual 2015 escape, according to testimony from a cooperating witness.
She also allegedly made payments totaling around $1 million to the same witness in an attempt to help her husband escape prison a third time after his final capture in 2016.