A U.S. judge ordered the wife of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to remain behind bars Tuesday after she was charged with helping her husband run his multibillion-dollar criminal empire.
Emma Coronel Aispuro, 31, a dual U.S.-Mexican citizen, appeared by video conference for an initial court appearance before a federal magistrate judge in Washington, D.C. She was arrested Monday at Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
When asked by the judge if she understood what was happening, Coronel said through the interpreter: “I understood everything very well, thank you.”
At the hearing, prosecutor Anthony Nardozzi alleged that Coronel “worked closely with the command-and-control structure” of the Sinaloa cartel and conspired to distribute large quantities of drugs, knowing they would be smuggled into the U.S. If convicted, she could face more than 10 years in prison.
Coronel’s attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, said he would consent to her temporary detention.
Colonel’s arrest was a surprise in part because authorities made no move to arrest her over the past two years, even after she was implicated in her husband’s crimes. During Guzman’s 2019 trial, prosecutors said she helped orchestrate Guzman’s two prison breaks in Mexico — audacious escapes that raised serious questions about whether Mexico’s justice system was capable of holding him accountable.
He is now serving life in prison in the United States.
Colonel was a fixture at her husband’s three-month trial, which took place in New York. The two, separated in age by more than 30 years, have been together since at least 2007, and their twin daughters were born in 2011.
As Mexico’s most powerful drug lord, Guzman ran a cartel responsible for smuggling cocaine and other drugs into the United States during his 25-year reign, prosecutors say. They also said his “army of sicarios,” or “hit men,” was under orders to kidnap, torture and kill anyone who got in his way.
On Tuesday, Nardozzi said Coronel had access to criminal associates, including other members of the cartel, and “financial means to generate a serious risk of flight.”
Coronel was charged in a single-count criminal complaint with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana in the U.S. She is also accused of helping her husband escape from a Mexican prison in 2015 and participating in the planning of a second prison escape before Guzman was extradited to the U.S.
Coronel worked with Guzman’s sons and a witness, who is now cooperating with the U.S. government, to organize the construction of the underground tunnel that Guzman used to escape from the Altiplano prison to prevent his extradition to the U.S., according to court documents. The plot also included purchasing a piece of land near the prison, firearms and an armored truck and smuggling him a GPS watch so they could “pinpoint his exact whereabouts so as to construct the tunnel with an entry point accessible to him,” the court papers say.
Her 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 U.S. Treasury had announced financial sanctions against her father for his alleged drug trafficking.