Emma Coronel to plead guilty: she is accused of helping her husband, 'El Chapo' Guzman, run his multi-million dollar empire

09/06/2021

Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of El Chapo Guzmán, will plead guilty this week to charges that she helped her husband run his multi-million dollar empire and then, after one of his arrests, escape from a high-security Mexican prison, according to a person familiar with the case. On the initial conspiracy charge against her, Coronel faced 10 years to life in prison. But under her agreement with the government, the person familiar with her case said to NYTimes, she will be designated as a "minimal participant" in the conspiracy and will likely be sentenced to much less time.

Chapo's wife Emma Coronel on her Instagram.
Chapo's wife Emma Coronel on her Instagram.

Coronel, 31, is expected to appear Thursday morning in U.S. District Court in Washington to plead guilty. She was arrested in February at Dulles International Airport near Washington following a nearly two-year investigation by U.S. law enforcement officials into her role as an accomplice of her husband, whose real name is Joaquín Guzmán Loera.

Guzmán, the former leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, was convicted in 2019 in a federal trial in Brooklyn and is now serving a life sentence in the so-called Supermax in Colorado, the most secure federal prison in the United States. Coronel, his third, or possibly fourth, wife, remained free even after a jury found him guilty, traveling between the United States and Mexico until her own arrest.

When she was taken into custody by the FBI, there was intense speculation that Coronel, who has dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship, would seek to offer the government information about her husband's allies, relatives, and business associates in exchange for a lighter sentence. But her plea agreement with prosecutors in Washington does not require her to cooperate with U.S. authorities, said the person familiar with the case.

It is unusual for law enforcement to pursue the wives of drug lords, but the case of Coronel, a former beauty queen whose family has a storied past in drug trafficking, is atypical.

Prosecutors at her husband's trial offered substantial evidence that she, like many of his mistresses, was deeply involved in his criminal activity, and often helped him send messages to her own father, Ines Coronel Barreras, who served as one of Guzman's top lieutenants before his arrest in Mexico in 2013.

Other messages presented at trial showed that Coronel was intimately involved in helping Guzman evade capture by US and Mexican authorities after a failed raid in 2012 in the Mexican resort town of Cabo San Lucas. In some of the messages, Guzman wrote to her describing how he had fled his beachfront villa just in time when the raiding party burst through the door of a nearby house.

Coronel was also instrumental in helping him escape from the high-security Altiplano prison near Toluca, Mexico, in 2015 after a coalition of US and Mexican law enforcement and military forces tracked him down the previous year at a beach hotel in Mazatlan. Prosecutors say, Coronel, using her visitation privileges, acted as an emissary between her husband and a team of conspirators, including her own brother, who plotted the escape by building a tunnel more than a kilometer long in the shower of his cell.

In 2016, after Guzman was captured and returned to Altiplano, Coronel tried to help him escape again by hatching a plot to bribe Mexico's top prison official, according to testimony at trial. However, before the plan could be carried out, Guzman was extradited to the United States.

The accusation against Emma Coronel is based on statements by 'Licenciando', 'Chapo's compadre

The accusation of international drug trafficking against Emma Coronel, wife of Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán, is based on what Dámaso López, El Licenciado, said during the trial of his compadre 'El Chapo'. The said statement, given before Judge Brian Cogan on January 24, 2019, was witnessed by Emma Coronel herself, who was in the courtroom and listened when El Licenciado implicated her in multiple crimes.

El Licenciado, now a collaborating witness for the US government, said that Emma Coronel, 31, knew about the illicit activities of her husband, El Chapo Guzmán, and the Sinaloa Cartel, from which she benefited; he also accused her of being El Chapo Guzmán's courier and as evidence revealed two letters written by his compadre. She also pointed her out as a key player in the escape of her husband, on July 11, 2015, from the federal prison El Altiplano. He said that, after the drug trafficker's recapture on January 8, 2016, in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Coronel coordinated, together with Chapo Guzmán's sons, a third escape.

He recalled that the woman had already paid a million dollars to buy a property near the prison and gave a bribe of two million dollars to a high-ranking Mexican official. The escape did not materialize because El Chapo was extradited to the United States in January 2017.

Statement from the U.S. Department

The former Mexican beauty queen was charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to distribute "one kilogram or more of heroin, five kilograms or more of cocaine, 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, and 500 grams or more of methamphetamine by unlawful importation into the United States," the official information added. According to the US Department of Justice information, Coronel Aispuro was also allegedly involved in planning another prison break with others prior to Guzman's extradition to the United States in January 2017.

As you may recall, El Chapo has already faced U.S. justice in what was dubbed the "trial of the century" and was convicted in February 2019. Nicholas L. McQuaid, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Criminal Division, and Steven D'Antuono of the FBI's Washington Field Office made the announcement of Coronel's arrest.

The agency in charge of Coronel's case is the FBI's Washington Field Office, while Anthony Nardozzi, acting deputy chief, and attorney Kate Wagner, of the Justice Department's Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Section, are in charge of the process. Towards the end of its statement, the Department explained that "a criminal complaint is simply an accusation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law."

First page of the document presented by the U.S. Department of Justice (Image: justice.gov)
First page of the document presented by the U.S. Department of Justice (Image: justice.gov)

According to Docket 1:21-mj-00240, the indictment is based on investigations by FBI space agent Eric S. McGuire who, he said, obtained information from other agents, including communications in Spanish that were translated into English. Emma Coronel was one of the most mediatic figures during her husband's trial in the United States.

Once the verdict was read by Judge Brian Cogan, on February 12, 2019, El Chapo looked at Emma Coronel Aispuro and made a gesture that journalists in the courtroom interpreted as an attempt to calm her down. She only responded with a thumbs-up. That day El Chapo was found guilty of ten felony charges related to drug trafficking, money laundering, international conspiracy, and use of firearms.

The love story between Emma Coronel and "El Chapo" Guzmán

It was an atypical love story: they met when she was still a minor and ended up marrying the most powerful and wanted drug trafficker in the world. On July 2, 2007, beauty queen Emma Coronel, known for having won the scepter at the Coffee and Guava Festival, turned 18 and at the same time married Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán Loera, founder of the Sinaloa Cartel.

The wedding took place in the town of La Angostura, municipality of Canelas, in the mountains of Durango. Twelve years later, Emma would write a love message to the drug lord, who was facing trial in the Brooklyn court in New York, in the United States.

Through her Instagram account, at the beginning of 2019, the former beauty queen posted a photograph of the courtroom where the trial of the century against one of Mexico's most important drug lords, El Chapo, had been taking place for a little over three months. The now 31-year-old explained that, after three months of attending the hearings, she reaffirmed the image she has of her 63-year-old husband.

"Everything that was said in the trial about Joaquín, good and bad, for me does not change in any way the way I have of thinking about him, since I have years of knowing him and sharing with him and those years make it more than clear to me the person he is and nobody changes that in my mind. Excellent father, friend, brother, son, partner. I am talking about years of living with him. They cannot sell me another version of Joaquín and although it has been a long time since we have had contact, my husband knows how much I love him and he has always counted, counts, and will always count on me," she wrote to conclude her attendance.

Emma Coronel has stated on several occasions that she was unaware of all aspects of her husband's illicit work, which is why she was not the focus of the investigations that ended up being carried out by both Mexican authorities and U.S. law enforcement agencies. She was disassociated from any relationship with Guzmán Loera's activities.

On the day of the wedding, in 2007, different chronicles of the time reported that the wedding took place in the midst of an impressive security operation and that even important political figures had attended. Some media claimed that there had been a lavish narco-style party, where there had been a waste of alcohol, food, and continuous music.

But Proceso magazine detailed that, on the day of the wedding, Guzmán Loera's people surrounded the farmhouse where the wedding was to take place, and only family members of the bride and people very close to El Chapo attended, such as Ignacio Coronel, El Rey del Cristal and uncle of the bride, and the former deputy attorney general of the Sinaloa government, Alfredo Higuera Bernal. The judge and the priest were brought by the drug trafficker from Sinaloa.

The party was reportedly attended by Ismael El Mayo Zambada, Juan José Esparragoza Moreno, El Azul, and the Beltrán Leyva brothers: Marcos Arturo, El Barbas, Alfredo, El Mochomo, and Héctor, El H, according to journalist Anabel Hernández, who specializes in drug trafficking.

In an interview for US network Telemundo in 2019, Coronel Aispuro released more details of the link: "I've heard that I don't know how many people there were, officials, I don't know... it's not true, it was just my family, the people from the ranch." "No, I have never seen him (Guzmán Loera) with a politician".

She clarified that "it was something very small, with pure family, there were no big gangs, nothing like that". For El Chapo, it was his third wedding, but unlike the previous ones, there was no honeymoon at this one. According to the former beauty queen, they only went to a ranch, and almost immediately moved to Culiacán, Sinaloa, where she began to study communications.

Locals quoted by Proceso magazine said that, after the wedding, La Angostura was searched by soldiers, but the couple was already far away from there. Days after the wedding, the inhabitants of Canelas saw an aircraft flying over the area. They believe it was a small plane belonging to rival drug traffickers.

This is the life of Emma Coronel, following the trial of the Chapo, more data came to light about their lifestyle and the relationship between both. Photo: Twitter
This is the life of Emma Coronel, following the trial of the Chapo, more data came to light about their lifestyle and the relationship between both. Photo: Twitter

Despite the love story, Emma Coronel has told on different occasions, the legitimacy of the marriage has been called into question. The latest was in 2018, when Alejandrina Gisselle Guzmán, daughter of the drug trafficker's first marriage, claimed that the union with the former beauty queen was illegitimate, as Guzmán Loera was still married to her mother.

The daughter of the Sinaloa Cartel leader indicated that his only wife is his mother and showed a marriage certificate: María Alejandrina Salazar Hernández, whom he married on August 2, 1977. "This document shows that Joaquín Guzmán's only wife is my mother and Emma Coronel is just a concubine," Gisselle Guzmán Salazar wrote on her social networks.

In an unpublished video, which was recorded during Guzmán Loera's re-entry to the Altiplano maximum-security prison after he escaped through a tunnel, the drug trafficker also recognizes Alejandrina Salazar as his wife. The video, from 2016, corresponds to the routine interrogation of all inmates when they arrive at this prison and basically corresponds to their general data: name, age, date of birth, schooling, marital status, parents' names, clothing sizes, and occupation, among others.

Then, Guzmán Loera said he was 58 years old, a farmer, practiced the Catholic religion, wore the number 7, and had completed elementary school. When asked about his marital status, the founder of the Sinaloa Cartel said he was married to his first wife, Alejandrina Salazar Hernández, with whom he married in 1977 and had four children: Archivaldo Iván, Jesús Alfredo, Alejandrina Giselle, and César Guzmán Salazar.

Regarding former beauty queen Emma Coronel, with whom he has two daughters, he said he lived with her, but did not recognize her as his wife. When the person in charge of the interrogation asked him the name of his wife, the drug trafficker's answer was "Alejandrina Salazar Hernandez, but the one I live with is Emma Coronel Aispuro".

In November of this year, Emma Coronel returned to her activity on social networks with a change of look: going from a dark brown to blonde rays to a new completely blonde shade. The change took place while modeling for a beauty product campaign. Coronel had gone through a discreet moment of rest during the pandemic period caused by COVID-19. She has not made any major changes to her Instagram profile: with only four photos she has gathered almost 403 thousand followers.

Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán's last wife insists she has a normal life; however, her social networks display a catalog of luxuries.

The former beauty queen, born in Santa Clara, has made public her lifestyle and her weakness for luxury cars. Lamborghinis and Ferraris are part of the handful of images available on the Instagram account @_emmacoronel_, which the capo's wife uses without any modesty to boast of a life of excess and ostentation.

On the account of the so-called Kardashian of Sinaloa, you can find self-portraits, photographs of jewelry, and trips that obey the need to transmit power. The images of El Chapo's latest wife have shocked Mexican society, who speculate that Emma has enjoyed the loot generated during the thirty years that her husband dedicated to forging ahead of the Sinaloa Cartel.

By Mexicanist, Sources: Agencies, Infobae