Mexican drug boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman’s wife pleaded guilty on Thursday to drug trafficking and money laundering charges. She was accused of running her husband’s narcotics empire in his absence.
Emma Coronel Aispuro, 31, pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court, acknowledging that she knowingly and willfully conspired to distribute heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine for several years. She also pleaded guilty to a money-laundering conspiracy charge and to engaging in transactions with a foreign narcotics trafficker.
US District Judge Rudolph Contreras asked her through an interpreter, "Are you entering this plea because you are guilty and for no other reason?"
"Si," she answered in Spanish, CNN reports.
The 31-year-old former beauty queen was arrested in February at Dulles International Airport in Virginia and has been jailed since then.
“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. So, 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 U.S.
As Mexico’s most powerful drug lord, Guzman ran a cartel responsible for smuggling cocaine and other drugs into the United States during his 25-year reign, prosecutors say. They allege he had an “army of sicarios,” or “hit men,” who were under orders to kidnap, torture and kill anyone who got in his way.
The prosecutor, Anthony Nardozzi, said Guzman's wife had “aided and abetted” the Sinaloa cartel’s objectives to smuggle drugs into the U.S. and helped to import more than 450,000 kilograms of cocaine, 90,000 kilograms of heroin, 45,000 kilograms of methamphetamine and about 90,000 kilograms 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,” he said
Her arrest earlier this year was a surprise in part because authorities had made no move to arrest her over the past two years, even after she was implicated in her husband’s crimes. During Guzman’s trial in 2019, prosecutors said she helped orchestrate Guzman’s two prison breaks in Mexico.
She was a regular at her husband's 2019 Brooklyn trial, where she was often spotted waving at her husband, CNN reports. At one point, she and Guzman wore matching velvet jackets in court.
Nardozzi said Coronel Aispuro “served as a go-between” to deliver messages to cartel members after her husband was arrested and also conspired with Guzman’s sons to “plan and coordinate” his prison escapes.
Coronel Aispuro listened quietly as prosecutors described how they could prove her illegal activity if she chose to go to trial.
Licthman said his client did not agree to cooperate with federal investigators but hoped she would receive below a statutory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison. She is due back in court in September for sentencing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.