By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK, Jan 23 (Reuters) - The wife of accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman played an important role in plotting his 2015 escape from a Mexican prison and tried to help him escape again after he was recaptured the following year, one Guzman's former top lieutenants testified on Wednesday.
Guzman's wife, Emma Coronel, has attended nearly every day of her husband's trial in federal court in Brooklyn, New York. She was there on Wednesday as Damaso Lopez Nunez testified that Coronel carried messages from her imprisoned husband about digging a tunnel into his cell.
Guzman, 61, was extradited to the United States in 2017 and has been on trial since November on charges of trafficking cocaine, heroin and other drugs into the country as leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. His lawyers have claimed he was framed by another powerful drug trafficker, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada.
Lopez, 52, is serving a life sentence in U.S. prison for drug trafficking, and has said he is cooperating with prosecutors in the hope of getting the sentence reduced. He has testified that he began working for Guzman in 2001 and is godfather to one of his former boss' twin daughters.
Lopez told jurors that, while Guzman was held in Mexico's Altiplano prison in 2014 and 2015, he plotted his boss' escape with Coronel and Guzman's sons, with Coronel passing messages to and from Guzman.
Lopez said the sons bought a plot of land near the prison from which to tunnel into Guzman's cell. Guzman escaped through the finished tunnel in 2015.
Guzman was recaptured in January 2016. Lopez said Coronel told him the following month that Guzman, then at Altiplano, wanted to duplicate his earlier escape.
That plan was thwarted when Guzman was moved to another prison in Ciudad Juarez, Lopez said, and a $2 million bribe to a national prison official to get him moved back was unsuccessful. Lopez did not identify the bribed official.
Despite her alleged role in both escape attempts, Coronel has never been charged with a crime. John Marzulli, a spokesman for the U.S. prosecutors, declined to comment.
When Lopez first stepped up to the witness stand on Tuesday, he looked at Guzman and bumped his fist to his chest. Asked by one of Guzman's lawyers on cross-examination Wednesday why he made the gesture, Lopez answered, "Because I love him."
Nonetheless, Lopez said, "the circumstances" compelled him to testify.
"I chose to think about my family," he said. (Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)
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