Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of the notorious Mexican drug lord best known as El Chapo, was sentenced on Tuesday to three years in prison on charges of helping run her husband’s multibillion-dollar criminal empire and playing a role in his escape from custody after he was captured in 2014.
Ms. Coronel, a former beauty queen who married El Chapo — whose real name is Joaquín Guzmán Loera — in 2007, on her 18th birthday, was arrested at Dulles International Airport, near Washington, in February, two years after her husband was convicted at a trial in New York City and sentenced to life in prison.
She had been in the cross-hairs of U.S. authorities for months. She ultimately pleaded guilty in June to helping Mr. Guzmán smuggle drugs across the U.S. border and make his dramatic flight from a high-security Mexican prison, an operation that involved a self-powered rail cart, a watch outfitted with a GPS device and a mile-long tunnel dug into the shower of his cell.
A dual U.S.-Mexican citizen, Ms. Coronel has, like her husband, long been a figure of public fascination, a role that she has often stoked by her lavish lifestyle and her laissez-faire attitude toward paparazzi. At her sentencing hearing in Federal District Court in Washington, she expressed “true regrets” for her crimes and begged Judge Rudolph Contreras to ignore the fact that she was the wife of an infamous drug lord.
“Perhaps because of this, there is reason for you to be harder on me,” Ms. Coronel said. “But I pray that you do not do that.”
While it is unusual for law enforcement to go after the spouses of drug-world figures, prosecutors at Mr. Guzmán’s trial offered substantial evidence that Ms. Coronel, while still in her 20s, was deeply enmeshed in her husband’s criminal business.
They introduced BlackBerry messages, for instance, that made clear that she had helped Mr. Guzmán conduct his illicit operations, sometimes alongside her own father, Inés Coronel Barreras, who was one of her husband’s top lieutenants and was taken into custody in 2013 in Mexico.
Other messages indicated that Ms. Coronel was intimately involved not only in Mr. Guzmán’s famous 2015 tunnel escape from Altiplano prison in Toluca, Mexico, but also in helping him to evade capture by American and Mexican authorities after a botched raid in 2012 in the Mexican resort town Cabo San Lucas.
At Mr. Guzmán’s trial, his onetime chief of staff, Dámaso López Núñez, told the jury that Ms. Coronel had sought to help her husband escape from prison yet again after he was recaptured in 2016 and returned to Altiplano. According to Mr. López, Ms. Coronel hatched a plot to bribe Mexico’s top prison official, but Mr. Guzmán was extradited to the United States to stand trial before the plan could be carried out.
As part of her plea deal with the government, Ms. Coronel agreed to turn over about $1.5 million in illicit proceeds from her husband’s illegal operations. While she admitted to helping him move at least 450 kilograms of cocaine, 90 kilograms of heroin and nearly 90,000 kilograms of marijuana into the United States over the years, she still received a relatively light sentence in part because her role in smuggling even that amount of drugs made her a “minimal participant” in a much larger criminal enterprise, according to her plea deal.
“The defendant was not an organizer, leader, boss or other type of manager,” Anthony J. Nardozzi, a federal prosecutor, told the court. “Rather she was a cog in a very large wheel of a criminal organization.”
In the wake of Ms. Coronel’s arrest, there was widespread speculation that she — like so many of Mr. Guzmán’s former allies — had decided to cooperate with U.S. authorities against other members of the organization he once led, the Sinaloa drug cartel. But in court papers filed this month, prosecutors said she had helped the government only in the prosecution of her own case.
Ms. Coronel’s lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, called the allegations that she had cooperated with the government “garbage,” adding that they had put his client’s life in danger. “I don’t know if she can ever go back to her home in Mexico,” Mr. Lichtman said.
The Sinaloa cartel remains one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal mafias, even in Mr. Guzmán’s absence. It is said to be run by an uneasy alliance of his sons, one of his brothers and his longtime partner, Ismael Zambada García, all of whom have been indicted in the United States.