The wife of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, whom U.S. law enforcement officials accuse of helping plot her husband’s daring escape from a Mexico prison in 2015, was arrested Monday at an airport in Virginia on international drug-trafficking charges, the U.S. Justice Department said.
Emma Coronel Aispuro, 31, who is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Mexico, was arrested at Dulles International Airport and is expected to appear in federal court in Washington on Tuesday.
She is charged in a single-count criminal complaint with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana in the U.S.
The Justice Department also accuses her 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. in January 2017.
Coronel Aispuro remained in custody, and it was not immediately clear if she had an attorney who could comment on the allegations.
Guzman, Mexico’s most powerful drug lord, escaped through an opening under the shower in his cell leading to a 1.6-kilometre-long lighted tunnel with a motorcycle on rails. The planning for the escape was extensive, prosecutors say, with his wife playing a key role.
Court papers charge that Coronel Aispuro worked with Guzman’s sons and a witness, who is now co-operating with the U.S. government, to organize the construction of the underground tunnel that Guzman used to escape from the Altiplano prison in Mexico to prevent him from being extradited to the U.S.
The plot included purchasing a piece of land near the prison, firearms and an armoured 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.
Guzman was sentenced to life behind bars in 2019. His Sinaloa cartel was responsible for smuggling mountains of cocaine and other drugs into the United States under his 25-year leasdership, prosecutors said in recent court papers. They also said his “army of sicarios,” or “hit men,” was under orders to kidnap, torture and kill anyone who got in his way.
Coronel Aispuro, a former teen beauty queen, regularly attended Guzman’s trial, even when testimony cast her in a harsh light. The two, separated in age by more than 30 years, have been together since at least 2007 and have twin daughters, who were born in 2011.
Her father, Ines Coronel Barreras, was arrested in Mexico 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, Ariz. Months earlier, the U.S. Treasury had announced financial sanctions against Coronel Barreras for his alleged drug trafficking.
After Guzman was re-arrested following his escape, Coronel Aispuro lobbied the Mexican government to improve her husband’s prison conditions. And after he was convicted in 2019, she moved to launch a clothing line in his name.