The wife of Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was arrested in the United States on Monday. She is accused of helping her husbandand plots his daring escape from a Mexican prison in 2015.
Emma Coronel Aispuro, a 31-year-old former beauty queen, was arrested at Dulles International Airport in Virginia and is expected to appear in federal court in Washington on Tuesday. He has dual citizenship of the United States and Mexico.
His arrest is the latest twist in the bloody multinational saga involving Guzmán, the former leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel. Guzmán, whose two dramatic prison escapes in Mexico fueled the legend that he and his family were nearly untouchable, was extradited to the United States in 2017 and is serving a life sentence.
Now his wife, with whom he has two young daughters, has been accused of helping him run his criminal empire. In a single-count criminal complaint, Coronel was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and marijuana in the U.S. The Justice Department also charged her with helping her husband escape from a Mexican prison in 2015 and of participating in the planning of a second prison break before Guzmán was extradited to the United States.
Coronel’s attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, declined to comment Monday night.
As Mexico’s most powerful drug lord, Guzmán led a cartel responsible for smuggling mountains of cocaine and other drugs into the United States during his 25-year reign, prosecutors said in recent court documents. They also said that their “army of hitmen” or “hit men” had orders to kidnap, torture and kill anyone who got in their way.
His escapes from prison became legend and raised serious questions about whether Mexico’s justice system was capable of holding him accountable. In one case, he escaped through an entrance under the shower in his cell into a mile-long lighted tunnel with a motorcycle on rails. Planning for the escape was extensive, prosecutors say, with his wife playing a key role.
The court documents accuse that Coronel worked with Guzmán’s children and a witness, who is now cooperating with the United States government, to organize the construction of the underground tunnel that Guzmán used to escape from the Altiplano prison to avoid his extradition to the U.S. land near the prison, firearms and an armored truck and smuggle a GPS watch from him so they could “locate his exact whereabouts and build the tunnel with an entry point accessible to him,” court documents say.
Guzmán was sentenced to life in prison in 2019.
Coronel, who was a beauty queen in her teens, regularly attended Guzmán’s trial, even as the testimony implicated her in her prison breaks. The two, separated in age for more than 30 years, have been together since at least 2007, and their twin daughters were born in 2011.
His father, Ines Coronel Barreras, was arrested in 2013 with one of his sons and several other men in a warehouse with hundreds of pounds of marijuana across the border from Douglas, Arizona. Months earlier, the United States Treasury had announced economic sanctions against his father for his alleged drug trafficking.
After Guzmán was arrested again after his escape, Coronel lobbied the Mexican government to improve her husband’s prison conditions. And after he was convicted in 2019, she moved to launch a clothing line in his name.
Mike Vigil, former head of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said Coronel “has been involved in drug trafficking since she was a child. She knows the inner workings of the Sinaloa cartel.”
He said that she might be willing to cooperate.
“He’s highly motivated, and they’re his twins,” Vigil said.