MEXICO CITY—The U.S.-born wife of imprisoned drug lord
Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán
was arrested Monday for allegedly helping her husband run his drug empire and carry out an escape from a maximum-security Mexican prison, the U.S. Justice Department said.
31 years old, who married Mr. Guzmán when she was a teenage beauty queen, was arrested at Washington’s Dulles airport. For five years, as her husband was on the run and in prison, Ms. Coronel acted as Mr. Guzmán’s courier, sending instructions to associates that dealt with increasing heroin production, paying bribes, buying weapons, and trying to bust Mr. Guzmán out of prison, according to an arrest affidavit.
Ms. Coronel, believed to be Mr. Guzmán’s third or fourth wife, is charged with conspiring to distribute heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana in the U.S., according to the affidavit, signed by a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent. She couldn’t be reached for comment. Court records don’t list an attorney for Ms. Coronel.
The arrest of Ms. Coronel could add new friction to U.S.-Mexico relations. It comes months after the October arrest in Los Angeles of Gen.
Mexico’s former defense minister, as he and his family arrived on a family vacation. A month later, U.S. officials dropped charges after Mexico complained that it had been kept in the dark about the U.S. investigation and threatened to cut off antidrug cooperation.
The former general was then returned to Mexico where he was eventually cleared of charges after Mexican prosecutors said the U.S. case was weak. The U.S. Department of Justice said it stood by its case.
Within weeks of the general’s return, the leftist nationalist government of President
Andrés Manuel López Obrador
passed a new law restricting U.S. agents’ activities in Mexico, and analysts say the moves on both sides reduced antidrug cooperation to its lowest level in many years. As president, Mr. López Obrador has expressed sympathy for the fate of the imprisoned drug lord, and promised Mr. Guzmán’s mother he would intercede with U.S. authorities to obtain a visa so she could visit her son.
Ms. Coronel’s arrest sends a message that despite the release of Gen. Cienfuegos, there are many other cases in the pipeline, said Alejandro Hope, a Mexico City-based security consultant. “The system doesn’t stop,” said Mr. Hope. “Who knows how many open investigations there are?”
Ms. Coronel attracted media attention during the 2019 New York trial of her husband, who was sentenced to life in prison. During the trial, Ms. Coronel attended daily, dressed fashionably and wore dark sunglasses. She seemed impassive even as texts between Mr. Guzmán and a mistress were read aloud in court.
While the spouses of drug lords are rarely targeted for arrest, U.S. prosecutors say Ms. Coronel played a key role in the planning of Mr. Guzmán’s escape from a maximum-security prison, where he was sent after his capture by Mexican security forces in 2014, the affidavit said. She used frequent prison visits with her husband to relay instructions to his sons and associates who built a 1.6 kilometer (almost 1 mile) tunnel from an abandoned warehouse to the bathroom in the drug lord’s prison cell. In 2015, Mr. Guzmán used the tunnel to escape, deeply embarrassing the Mexican government.
After Mr. Guzmán was recaptured and returned to the same prison, Ms. Coronel continued to meet with her husband and again plotted to help him escape, the affidavit said. That escape attempt was foiled when Mr. Guzmán was transferred to another prison, despite the payment, according to Ms. Coronel, of $2 million to the Mexican official in charge of the prison system, the affidavit says.
Ms. Coronel also helped Mr. Guzmán run his drug empire while he was in prison in Mexico, the affidavit alleges. In a letter from Mr. Guzmán that she relayed to an associate named Cleto, Mr. Guzmán ordered the cartel to “increase the production so that it yields…because I have a lot of expenses here.” The increased production, according to the affidavit, refers to heroin production, and the expenses refer to the bribes that Mr. Guzmán had to pay in prison, the affidavit says.
Mr. Guzmán was extradited to the U.S. in 2017.
Ms. Coronel, a dual U.S.-Mexican citizen, was born in California. She is the daughter of a prominent member of the Sinaloa drug cartel, a Mexican drug trafficker who is serving a 10-year prison sentence.
In 2007 or 2008, Mexican officials say that Mr. Guzmán and hundreds of gunmen took over a remote Mexican village and hosted a party with cases of whiskey and a norteño band to see Ms. Coronel crowned the winner of a local beauty pageant. He married her months later.
Ms. Coronel is the mother of nine-year-old twin girls, Mr. Guzmán’s youngest children.
Write to José de Córdoba at email@example.com
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Source: WSJ – US News