Wife of El Chapo admits helping run Mexican drug cartel in US plea deal

The wife of the Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has pleaded guilty to charges in the US and admitted that she helped her husband run his multibillion-dollar criminal empire.

Emma Coronel Aispuro, wearing a green jail uniform, appeared in federal court in Washington on Thursday and pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiring to distribute illegal drugs, conspiring to launder money and conspiring to assist the Sinaloa drug cartel.

As part of her plea agreement, she also admitted to conspiring to helping her husband escape from a Mexican prison in 2015.

The 31-year-old was arrested in February at Dulles international airport in Virginia and has been jailed since then.

Coronel Aispuro listened quietly as prosecutors described how they could prove her illegal activity if she chose to go to trial.

"Sí,” she said through a translator, when asked by the judge if she had actually committed the crimes the government described.

Coronel could face up to life in prison for the drug distribution charge alone. The other two counts against her carry maximum prison terms of 20 years and 10 años, respectivamente.

“She is very happy to put this behind her,” Coronel Aispuro’s attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, said outside the courthouse. “She didn’t expect to get arrested after her husband received life in prison. Entonces, this is obviously a troubling time. But we’re going to get past it.”

Prosecutors have alleged Coronel Aispuro “worked closely with the command-and-control structure” of the Sinaloa cartel and conspired to distribute large quantities of drugs, knowing they would be smuggled into the US.

As Mexico’s most powerful drug lord, Guzmán ran a cartel responsible for smuggling cocaine and other drugs into the United States during his 25-year reign, prosecutors say. They also said his “army of sicarios", or “hitmen”, was under orders to kidnap, torture and kill anyone who got in his way.

The prosecutor, Anthony Nardozzi, said his wife had “aided and abetted” the Sinaloa cartel’s objectives to smuggle drugs into the US and helped to import more than 450,000kg (1m pounds) of cocaine, 90,000kg of heroin, 45,000kg of methamphetamine and about 90,000kg of marijuana.

Lichtman insisted that Coronel Aisupro was a “very minimal participant” in the drug empire. “She was a very small part of this much larger thing," él dijo.

Her arrest earlier this year was a surprise in part because authorities had made no move to arrest her over the previous two years, even after she was implicated in her husband’s crimes. During Guzmán’s trial in 2019, prosecutors said she helped orchestrate Guzmán’s two prison breaks in México.

Nardozzi said Coronel Aispuro “served as a go-between” to deliver messages to cartel members after her husband was arrested and also conspired with Guzmán’s sons to “plan and coordinate” his prison escapes.

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