Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of Mexico’s most notorious cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, has been arrested in Virginia on drug trafficking charges.
In a statement released on Monday, the US justice department said that Coronel, 31 – who is a joint US-Mexican citizen – was arrested at Dulles international airport and was scheduled to make her initial appearance in federal court on Tuesday via video conference.
According to court documents, Coronel is charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana for importation into the US.
She has also been charged with allegedly conspiring to help arrange Guzmán’s spectacular escape through a mile-long tunnel from the high-security Altiplano prison in Mexico in July 2015.
Court papers allege that Coronel worked with Guzmán’s sons to organize the escape plot, which included buying a plot of land near the prison, firearms and an armored truck and smuggling the imprisoned cartel chief a GPS watch to ensure the escape tunnel reached his cell.
“After Guzmán was re-arrested in Mexico in January 2016, Coronel Aispuro is alleged to have engaged in planning yet another prison escape with others prior to Guzmán’s extradition to the US in January 2017,” the statement said.
Guzmán was sentenced to life plus 30 years at his trial in New York in 2019.
Throughout the trial, Coronel attended court every day, even when evidence included text messages between her husband and one of his mistresses.
Before her husband’s sentencing, she told a sympathetic TV interviewer that Guzmán was a “humble” man and complained that the media had made El Chapo “too famous”.
Her arrest is likely to further complicate relations between the administrations of Joe Biden and his Mexican counterpart Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and comes as security cooperation between Mexico and the United States appears to have cooled.
Mexican prosecutors recently declined to pursue charges against the former defence secretary Gen Salvador Cienfuegos, who was arrested upon landing in Los Angeles last October and accused of protecting a drug cartel.
López Obrador’s government successfully petitioned for his return, having accused the United States of acting without their knowledge and failing to act like an ally. The country’s congress also approved laws limiting the actions of the DEA in Mexico – a move US officials warned would cripple cross-border cooperation on security issues.
“The timing of this arrest is interesting,” said Falko Ernst, senior Mexico analyst at the International Crisis Group. “In part, this appears to send a message from the US, which says that their traditional tools of arresting high level actors and trying them in the US is not yet a thing of the past yet – even after Cienfuegos.”
US anti-drug agents worked closely on El Chapo’s arrests in Mexico, where he long evaded the law and became a sort of antihero in his home state of Sinaloa and beyond.
Emma Coronel was born in Santa Clara, California and is the daughter of Ines Coronel Barreras, a medium-ranking lieutenant in the Sinaloa cartel.
She grew up in the “Golden Triangle” of Mexico’s Sierra Madre, and reportedly met Guzmán at a local festival. She was 17 at the time, and Guzmán was 51.
The couple have nine-year-old twin daughters.
While – like many older narco bosses – El Chapo kept a low profile despite his fame, his wife sought the spotlight.
She launched a line of clothing – with some of the items emblazoned with El Chapo’s familiar moustachioed face – and attempted to establish herself up as a social media influencer with a carefully curated Instagram feed. She even briefly appeared on a US reality TV show.
“Bragging can be dangerous and time and again those exposing themselves too much and too publicly make themselves targets,” Ernst said.
“If you want to stay out of prison, standing out isn’t the way to go. It’s something many old school traffickers used to live by, but more recent generations appear to have mostly forgotten all about.”
Despite his incarceration, Guzmán still casts a long shadow in Mexico, and the Sinaloa cartel, now partly led by his sons, remains a formidable force. When Guzmán’s son Ovidio was arrested in October 2019, cartel gunmen overran the city of Culiacán and forced state security forces to release him.
López Obrador defended the move, saying that releasing the younger Guzmán had prevented further bloodshed.
Mexico’s president has always avoided speaking ill of El Chapo, and in late March 2020, he briefly met Guzmán’s elderly mother, Maria Consuelo Loera, while on a tour of the Sierra Madre.
López Obrador described the kingpin’s mother as “a pensioner who deserves my full respect – whoever her son might be” and confirmed that she had petitioned him for help to obtain a US visa so she could visit her son at the “Supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado.