Wife of El Chapo Pleads Guilty to Helping Run His Drug Empire

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Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of the notorious Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo, pleaded guilty on Thursday to helping her husband run his global criminal empire nearly a decade ago and then, after one of his arrests, to escape from a high-security Mexican prison.

Appearing in a green suit at a hearing in federal court in Washington, Ms. Coronel, 31, acknowledged that starting in 2011, she helped her husband, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, smuggle at least 450 kilograms of cocaine, 90 kilograms of heroin and nearly 90,000 kilograms of marijuana into the United States.

Ms. Coronel also admitted to ferrying messages from Mr. Guzmán to a team of conspirators who helped him break out of the Altiplano prison, near Toluca, Mexico, in 2015 — a dramatic escape that involved a self-powered rail cart and a mile-long tunnel that was dug into the shower of his cell.

The court appearance, while brief, prompted interest across the United States and Mexico where Ms. Coronel, a dual U.S.-Mexican citizen, has remained a subject of fascination, partly stoked by her lavish social media habits. A constant presence at Mr. Guzmán’s trial in Brooklyn three years ago, she often came and went in a swirl of TV cameras, publicity advisers and expensive perfume.

According to her plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Ms. Coronel, who was arrested in February at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, was designated as a “minimal participant” in the crimes of her husband’s former organization, the Sinaloa drug cartel. Under the agreement, she faces 108 to 135 months in prison when she is sentenced in September, but her lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, said that she may serve less time than that.

“She is happy that she can start putting all of this behind her and is looking forward to getting back to her children,” Mr. Lichtman said. “We are expecting a sentence that will not destroy her life.”

Even though prosecutors introduced significant evidence at Mr. Guzmán’s trial that implicated Ms. Coronel, his third — or possibly fourth — wife, in international drug deals, some involving her own father, she more or less roamed free for the past two years as U.S. law enforcement officers investigated her and ultimately negotiated her surrender.

Mr. Guzmán, who was convicted in early 2019, is now serving a life sentence in the so-called Supermax, the United States’ most secure federal prison.

Despite incessant chatter in the news media, no provision in Ms. Coronel’s nine-page plea agreement called for cooperation with the American authorities. While there was intense speculation at the time of her arrest about whether she would spill the cartel’s secrets to investigators, it remains unclear who she could cooperate against. Her husband has been in U.S. custody since 2017 and many of the criminal associates that she might have theoretically testified against testified themselves against Mr. Guzmán at his trial.

Law enforcement officials say that Mr. Guzmán’s business interests are being handled by four of his sons who are collectively known as Los Chapitos and were born to women other than Ms. Coronel. Each of them is facing federal charges in the United States but remains at large in Mexico.

Zach Montague contributed reporting.

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