The wife of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman pleaded guilty Thursday (local time) 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 and pleaded guilty to three federal offences as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors.
The charges include knowingly and wilfully conspiring 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.
The 31-year-old 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 lawyer, 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 US.
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 also said his "army of sicarios," or "hit men," 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 450,000 kgs of cocaine, 90,000 kgs of heroin, 45,000 kgs of methamphetamine and about 90,000 kgs of marijuana.
Lichtman insisted that Coronel Aispuro 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.
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.
"Yes," she said through a translator, when asked by the judge if she had actually committed the crimes the government described.
Litchman 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 when she is due back in court in September for sentencing.