El Chapo's wife pleads guilty to federal drug trafficking charges

Emma Coronel Aispuro, wife of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, is surrounded by security as she arrives at federal court on July 17, 2019, in New York City. Aispuro pleaded guilty June 10 to three drug trafficking charges related to her husband's narcotics empire. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The wife of Mexican drug boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman pleaded guilty Thursday to drug trafficking and money laundering charges related to her husband's narcotics empire.

Emma Coronel Aispuro, 31, entered her plea in a federal court in Washington nearly two years after Guzman was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years for engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise as well as drug trafficking and firearms charges as leader of the murderous Sinaloa Cartel.

A former beauty queen with an interest in fashion, Coronel wore a green prison uniform and white face covering Thursday as she told US District Judge Rudolph Contreras -- through an interpreter -- that she understood and accepted the conditions her plea agreement.

"Are you entering this plea because you are guilty and for no other reason?" Contreras asked Coronel, for each of the three counts.

"Si," Coronel, a dual US-Mexican citizen, answered in Spanish.

Coronel was arrested in February on international drug trafficking charges at Dulles International Airport and remained detained pending trial.

Her attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, said before the hearing that Coronel -- who married Guzman in 2007 -- hoped to some day get back to their young twin daughters.

"This is an arm's length plea agreement," Lichtman said. "She's happy to take responsibility ... (to) get on with her life."

Attorney Mariel Colon, also representing Coronel, said of her client's plea: "The only thing I can tell you is that she is at peace with her decision."

Coronel pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine for importation into the US; conspiracy to launder monetary instruments; and violating the Kingpin Act by engaging in transactions and dealings in property of her husband, a significant foreign narcotics t rafficker designated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

She will sentenced September 15.

"The defendant aided and abetted the objectives of the Sinaloa Cartel," Anthony Nardozzi, Deputy Chief of Litigation at the Justice Department, told the court.

"And it allowed Guzman to resume his leadership role at the Sinaloa Cartel and in doing so, furthered the cartel's drug trafficking business."

Nardozzi said prosecutors had evidence and witness testimony showing Coronel's involvement in the cartel from 2011 to 2017. Coronel often served as a go between for her husband and cartel associates while he was incarcerated in Mexico, he said.

Nardozzi also said there was evidence Coronel facilitated the trafficking of thousands of kilograms of narcotics, including cocaine, heroin and marijuana.

Coronel was a regular at her husband's months-long trial in Brooklyn federal court in 2019, often exchanging waves and smiles with one of the world's most feared drug lords.

New York tabloids regularly reported on her fashion choices and one day she and Guzman wore matching velvet jackets in court.

After Guzman was convicted, he signed away the rights to his name so that Coronel could start an El Chapo-branded clothing line featuring his signature, according to Coronel's attorneys.

"It is a project dedicated to our daughters," she told CNN in a statement in March 2019.

The complaint at the time of Coronel's arrest cited her alleged involvement in Guzman's 2015 escape from a Mexican prison.

The kingpin dramatically escaped on a motorcycle through a tunnel that had been dug to his cell at the Altiplano maximum security federal prison.

Coronel brought messages from Guzman to the group that planned the breakout after visiting him in prison, according to testimony at his trial.

In 2001, Guzman also escaped from now-closed Puente Grande prison hidden in a cart filled with dirty laundry.

In February 2019, Guzman was convicted on 10 counts, including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to launder narcotics proceeds, international distribution of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and other drugs. He is serving his sentence in Colorado's Supermax prison.

In Guzman's trial, a cooperating witness testified that Coronel and others worked together to coordinate details of Guzman's last escape.

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