The Washington Post

Wife of drug kingpin ‘El Chapo’ gets 3 years in prison

Coronel admitted to helping imprisoned husband control cartel

- BY PAUL DUGGAN paul.duggan@washpost.com

Two years after the Mexican drug lord nicknamed “El Chapo” began serving life behind bars in the United States, his wife, who admitted taking part in his multibilli­on-dollar smuggling operation and aiding his notorious 2015 tunnel escape from a Mexican prison, was sentenced Tuesday to 36 months in a federal penitentia­ry.

Emma Coronel Aispuro, whose husband, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, reigned for years as boss of Mexico’s murderous Sinaloa Cartel, pleaded guilty in June to three charges in U.S. District Court in Washington, including conspiracy to distribute 100 tons of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphet­amines.

“I address you today to express my true regret . . . and ask that you and all the citizens of this country forgive me,” Coronel, 32, told Judge Rudolph Contreras in Spanish. Speaking through an interprete­r, she said, “I am sorry.”

The Justice Department and Coronel’s lawyers agreed that advisory sentencing guidelines in her case called for prison time in the range of 51 to 71 months. A prosecutor recommende­d only 48 months, noting that Coronel was a small “cog in a very large wheel of a powerful criminal organizati­on” and that she “quickly accepted responsibi­lity” after her February arrest.

But defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman asked for more leniency, saying Coronel, a former beauty queen, married El Chapo on her 18th birthday, when he was 49, and spent her adulthood under his sway. “Her involvemen­t ... was in many ways just being Joaquín Guzmán’s wife,” Lichtman said, arguing that her role in the organizati­on should be “judged through the lens of how she entered it.”

Contreras, in giving her 36 months, indicated he agreed.

As part of a plea deal, Coronel admitted she helped her husband, now 64, keep control of the Sinaloa Cartel from his cell in a supposedly high-security Mexican prison before his escape in July 2015. She conceded that prosecutor­s could show she delivered messages from El Chapo to cartel associates as he continued directing and profiting from drug smuggling while in custody.

She acknowledg­ed she received $1 million in heroin proceeds that were owed to Guzmán and used intermedia­ries to distribute some of the cash as bribes to ensure favorable treatment for him in the prison, known as Altiplano, near Mexico City.

And in a caper seemingly straight out of Hollywood, she admitted giving her incarcerat­ed husband a GPS device disguised as food. Aided by the device, cartel engineers burrowed a mile-long tunnel, 33 feet deep, that came up under the shower stall in El Chapo’s cell.

The tunnel originated on property that Coronel acknowledg­ed buying for the escape.

After months in hiding, the stout, 5-foot-6-inch kingpin, whose nickname roughly translates to “Shorty,” was captured in January 2016 and extradited to the United States a year later. He was convicted of federal drug-traffickin­g charges in 2019 and sentenced to life. In his years atop the cartel, authoritie­s said, he raked in an estimated $14 billion and was responsibl­e for innumerabl­e acts of savage violence.

“He won me over with his kindness and his manners,” Coronel once told an interviewe­r. She and Guzmán are parents of 11-year-old twin daughters.

At El Chapo’s trial in Brooklyn, his wife cut a striking figure, arriving in fashionabl­e outfits, stiletto heels and oversized sunglasses. From her reserved seat in the courtroom gallery, she would occasional­ly blow kisses to her husband.

“The Kardashian of Sinaloa,” she was dubbed. She launched a clothing line in El Chapo’s name and appeared on the VH1 reality show “Cartel Crew.”

Then, on Feb. 22 this year, Coronel was arrested by federal agents at Dulles Internatio­nal Airport in Virginia. In addition to the drug conspiracy charge, she pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiring to launder money and conducting a financial transactio­n intended to evade U.S. government sanctions against her husband.

Coronel “opted to take accountabi­lity for her actions, and she did so quickly,” prosecutor Anthony J. Nardozzi said in recommendi­ng a lesser sentence than called for by the guidelines. He said she “saved the government the considerab­le time and resources that would have been required to engage in adversaria­l proceeding­s against her.”

Lichtman, in seeking a shorter prison term for his client than the prosecutor wanted, said Coronel’s safety has been imperiled by loose-lipped federal authoritie­s.

“The danger she finds herself in is due to the numerous . . . anonymous comments from government agents claiming that she cooperated with the government,” Lichtman told the judge. Calling those news leaks “garbage,” he said, “It’s made it so that I don’t know if she can ever go home again to Mexico.”

In sentencing her to less time than Nardozzi asked for, Contreras said, “Her husband’s longterm incarcerat­ion makes it highly unlikely she will return to the cartel’s work, given that her efforts were tied directly to him.” And he said no amount of prison time for Coronel would affect the Sinaloa Cartel’s business.

“In fact . . . even the removal of Mr. Guzmán from the conspiracy has not resulted in a reduction of harm to the public,” the judge said. “There appears to be no shortage of available replacemen­ts to fill the defendant’s slot in the organizati­on.”

 ?? JEENAH MOON/REUTERS ?? Emma Coronel Aispuro, wife of Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, exits the Brooklyn federal courthouse in February 2019. Coronel was sentenced Tuesday after pleading guilty to charges in June.
JEENAH MOON/REUTERS Emma Coronel Aispuro, wife of Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, exits the Brooklyn federal courthouse in February 2019. Coronel was sentenced Tuesday after pleading guilty to charges in June.

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