Wife of Mexican drug kingpin 'El Chapo' appears in U.S. court charged with ties to Sinaloa cartel

by Reuters
Tuesday, 23 February 2021 18:18 GMT

(Adds comment from prosecutors)

By Sarah N. Lynch and Jonathan Stempel

WASHINGTON, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of Mexican drug cartel kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, made her initial appearance in a federal court in Washington on Tuesday on charges of helping her husband run his drug empire.

Coronel, 31, a former beauty queen, was arrested at the Dulles International Airport on Monday.

"This defendant worked closely with the command and control structure of the Mexican drug trafficking organization known as the Sinaloa cartel," a lawyer for the government said during the virtual hearing on Tuesday.

Coronel is being held temporarily at an Alexandria, Virginia, jail and her lawyers were expected to apply for bail.

Authorities said Coronel relayed messages to help Guzman conduct drug trafficking from 2012 to early 2014, and continued delivering messages while visiting him in a Mexican prison following his February 2014 arrest.

They also said Coronel conspired in Guzman's famous July 2015 escape from the Altiplano prison in Mexico through a mile-long tunnel dug from his cell, and began plotting another escape following his January 2016 capture by Mexican authorities.

If convicted on all charges, Coronel faces up to life in prison and a potential fine of up to $10 million.

Guzman, 63, was convicted in February 2019 in a high-profile Brooklyn trial of masterminding a multibillion dollar drug enterprise for his drug operation, the Sinaloa cartel.

He was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years, and locked up in the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.

Coronel is the highest-profile Mexican arrested by U.S. authorities on drug charges since October, when former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos was detained.

The U.S. Department of Justice unexpectedly dropped the Cienfuegos case the following month and let him return to Mexico. Mexico dropped its own case against him in January.

A Justice Department official said the case against Coronel is part of a long history of going after drug trafficking, and it is not reflective of a new push by the Biden administration.

Coronel, a dual U.S.-Mexico citizen born in California, was charged with conspiring with her husband to distribute heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine for unlawful importation into the United States.

Prosecutors said Coronel grew up understanding the drug business and the reach of the Sinaloa cartel.

She met Guzman when she was a young beauty queen, and married him in 2007 at age 18. The couple has twin daughters.

Coronel was a regular presence at her husband's trial in Brooklyn.

In 2019 she launched a clothing brand in the United States, and she also appeared in a U.S. reality show about mafia families. (Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Jon Stempel Editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.