ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, was sentenced Friday to more than eight years in prison on federal drug trafficking charges, according to court documents.
Coronel, 31, was convicted in October on 10 drug-trafficking charges with a sentencing range of five to 10 years behind bars. She will have to serve at least 85 percent of the prison sentence before being eligible for release. U.S. District Judge Linda Marie Crotty handed down the sentence Friday morning.
One year ago, prosecutors and defense attorneys finished laying out their cases for a monthlong trial. The proceedings lasted through much of December and were marked by a series of disagreements among jurors, as they deliberated. The trial marked one of the most closely watched since then, given that it was the first to take place in the U.S. on charges related to Guzman.
During the trial, U.S. prosecutors described a 30-year-long conspiracy to smuggle tons of heroin, cocaine and marijuana into the U.S. by way of Mexico, sometimes travelling by plane or on rugged terrain. They cited the rapid growing of the Sinaloa cartel that Guzman and several of his associates oversaw.
The trial became a media spectacle as journalists flocked to the Albuquerque courtroom daily, riding in caravan-style vans to follow the proceedings and holding court on the courthouse steps for the hours it was open to the public. Courts and venue staff struggled to keep up with the crush of reporters, as could be seen in a recent video posted on YouTube.
Despite all the attention, not much came out in the trial about Coronel Aispuro, who is often described as the woman who actually married the much-larger Guzman and who was present for much of his trial in a wheelchair after being injured in a New York City shootout last July.
“I have lost more than anything in the world,” Guzman told Crotty on Friday as he sought to win over the judge with a series of letters in support of Coronel Aispuro. “She doesn’t have the name of her own family.”
But unlike other major witnesses against Guzman, who gave up his own daughter, Coronel Aispuro stayed close to the defendant. She was married to Guzman when he was recaptured last summer after evading U.S. authorities for almost 10 years, and prosecutors say she introduced her husband to many of the associates who aided him in a sprawling drug trafficking operation.
One of those witnesses, Manuel Beltran Leyva, testified that Coronel Aispuro got in touch with him about drug trafficking in 1993. Lugo said he supported Coronel Aispuro after she came into possession of a recipe for making heroin, along with other drug packaging supplies.
“She was in love with Chapo,” Lugo said. “For her, he was such a good husband, a good person. She never helped me with any of my business.”
Lugo was a member of Los Zetas, a ruthless Mexican drug cartel that Guzman’s cartel relied on for its funding. The cartel sent him to Colombia and Peru to secure the supplies, and helped to smuggle those ingredients into Mexico, according to Lugo. He said that at one point he smuggled cocaine valued at between $1 million and $2 million.
Lugo also testified that he received $10 million to help Guzman escape from prison in 2001, when he was initially housed in a maximum security prison in the desert near the Mexican border town of Juarez. Guzman first bribed officials with $5 million and then made his way through the airport using tunnels when they were busy, he said. Guzman managed to evade authorities for so long that his escape at least two decades ago did not raise the suspicions of the U.S. government.
The judge sent the case back to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for possible charges against other associates of Guzman, who she said gave him financial assistance in his escape from prison.
Since the trial ended, Coronel Aispuro has taken a more active role in her defense strategy. The defense filed paperwork to have Crotty dismiss the charges against her because the prosecution had misled the judge. Guzman also faces drug trafficking charges in his home country, which his lawyers in the U.S. hope to challenge.