The life of Emma Coronel Aispuro reads like a soap opera script: teenage beauty queen marries drug kingpin, helps him escape from prison, becomes famous as she stands by his side when he’s tried and convicted, and then gets arrested herself.
Now the 31-year-old’s story could be reaching it’s climax, as US officials look to her to help take down her husband Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán’s operation, the Sinaloa cartel.
Coronel and Guzman, who is more than three decades her senior, tied the knot when she was 18 in 2007 and went on to spend the majority of their married life with Guzman either in jail or on the run as one of the world’s top drug lords.
When Guzman finally went on trial in 2019, Coronel stepped into the spotlight, attending court in designer outfits with their two twin daughters in a show of loyalty.
Coronel had refused to cooperate with investigators and turn on her husband – who was easily convicted anyway and sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years.
After Guzman was put away, Coronel leaned even further into her newfound fame, garnering a 579,000-strong following on social media, launching a clothing brand in the US and appearing on a reality show about mafia families.
Everything came crashing down on Monday when Coronel was arrested at Dulles Airport in Washington, DC, and charged with drug trafficking after an informant accused her of masterminding Guzman’s Hollywood-style escape from a Mexico prison in 2015.
US investigators are said to be confident that putting pressure on Coronel will finally make her crack and cooperate – potentially providing information that could bring the Sinaloa cartel down altogether.
The life of Emma Coronel Aispuro (pictured) reads like a soap opera script: teenage beauty queen marries drug kingpin, helps him escape from prison, becomes famous as she stands by his side when he’s tried and convicted, and then gets arrested herself
When her husband Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán finally went on trial in 2019, Coronel stepped into the spotlight, attending court wearing designer outfits in a show of loyalty
US officials are said to be confident that bringing charges against Coronel will finally convince her to turn on her husband, Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán (pictured) and the Sinaloa cartel
Coronel has been charged with one count criminal complaint with a conspiracy to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin, five kilograms or more of cocaine, 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, and 500 grams or more of methamphetamines for unlawful importation into the US.
According to prosecutors, she helped run her husband’s drug empire between 2014 and 2017, and she also participated in two plots to spring him from prison – one in 2015 – which was successful – and another in 2016, while he was awaiting extradition to the US – which was not.
Coronel has been enmeshed in the cartel world all her life, having grown up with a father and brother who were both drug traffickers.
Coronel was arrested at Dulles Airport in Washington, DC, on Monday and charged with drug trafficking
When she married Guzman, then 50, the families ‘merged’ and he brought her brother and father in to be his ‘top lieutenants’, according to former DEA Chief Mike Vigil .
‘Emma Coronel has always been a narco princess,’ Vigil told the Sun this week.
‘The cartels trust their family members more than anybody else.
‘She can provide a lot of information that can lead to US-based indictments against Sinaloa cartel members.’
It remains unclear whether Coronel intends to cooperate, or if she plans to continue standing by her husband’s side. Vigil said he thinks it could go either way.
‘Her life is in danger if she cooperates,’ he said. ‘Her motivation for co-operating would be her young twin daughters. She goes to jail, she has a life without them.’
The Sinaloa cartel, which was established in Culiacan in the 1980s, has only increased its power in the wake of Guzman’s arrest, authorities say.
It continues to send millions of dollars of drugs into the US each month under the presumed leadership of Guzman’s longtime partner, Ismael ‘El Mayo’ Zambada.
Zambada is believed to be sharing that role with Guzman’s sons – Jesús Alfredo Guzmán, Iván Guzmán and Ovidio Guzmán, who go by the moniker ‘Los Chapitos’.
The cartel’s leadership structure has long been elusive, but cooperation from someone as high up as Coronel could change that.
The Sinaloa cartel has held its power even after Guzman’s arrest and continues to send millions of dollars of drugs into the US each month under the presumed leadership of Guzman’s longtime partner, Ismael ‘El Mayo’ Zambada (pictured)
Guzman’s sons – Jesús Alfredo Guzmán, Iván Guzmán (left) and Ovidio Guzmán (right), who go by the moniker ‘Los Chapitos’ – have also taken a more active role in the cartel since his arrest
The Department of Justice has not confirmed when or how Coronel agreed to turn herself in on Monday.
At a virtual court appearance on Tuesday, her attorneys said they were not immediately seeking bail. The hearing was delayed because an interpreter hadn’t been called.
US Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather said prosecutors had provided sufficient reason to keep Coronel behind bars for now.
She is facing a minimum of 10 years in prison but a maximum of life and a fine of up to $10million.
A date does not appear to have been set for her next hearing.
At a virtual court appearance on Tuesday, Aispuro’s attorneys said they were not immediately seeking bail. Aispuro is pictured in a court sketch of the virtual proceedings along with her lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman (top left) and US Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather (top right)
In the wake of her arrest, speculation arose that Coronel, who lived in relative obscurity before Guzman’s trial, may have put a target on her own back when she embraced the limelight.
Her actions violated unwritten rules about family members, especially wives, keeping a low profile.
Until the trial, ‘Emma had remained anonymous like practically all of partners of Sinaloa cartel capos,’ Adrián López, executive editor of Sinaloa’s Noroeste newspaper, told the Associated Press.
Then, ‘she begins to take on more of a celebrity attitude. … This breaks a tradition of secrecy and a style specifically within the leadership of the Sinaloa cartel.’
Late last year, the Mexican investigative journalist Anabel Hernández – who has written extensively about the Sinaloa cartel, including a 2019 book about the diary of cartel leader Ismael ‘El Mayo’ Zambada’s son – said a source told her that Coronel’s mother, Blanca Aispuro, was worried about the turn her daughter’s life was taking.
Concern was also building among Guzmán’s sons and Sinaloa cartel leader Ismael ‘El Mayo’ Zambada, said Hernández, who was the first journalist to ever interview Emma Coronel.
‘Her mother was also worried that an enemy cartel could harm Emma because she was unleashed, was out in the street a lot, the clubs, excessive in her social life,’ Hernández said the source told her.
‘Her mother worried something like that could happen or she could become a target of the government.’
Coronel walks out of Federal Court flanked by bodyguards and US Marshalls after her husband was found guilty of drug trafficking charges in 2019
After Guzman was put away, Coronel leaned even further into her newfound fame, garnering a 579,000-strong following on social media, launching a clothing brand in the US and appearing on a reality show about mafia families
Guzmán has been married numerous times; as was made clear in his trial in New York, he has been far from faithful.
Sitting in the courtroom, Coronel heard a woman testify to how she and Guzmán made a dramatic escape from a middle-of-the-night raid on one of his hideouts by Mexican marines.
She described hopping out of bed, locating a secret hatch and running through a drainage tunnel, a naked Guzmán leading the way.
‘Sometimes I loved him and sometimes I didn’t,’ the woman said, tearfully.
Coronel was there each day smiling, blowing kisses to Guzmán, ‘but in reality they tell me that Emma was very, very mad and very hurt,’ Hernández said.
‘And so, when the trial ended she decided to take revenge and the way to get revenge was to make her husband see what he was losing.’
Coronel was born in San Francisco, but grew up in the mountains of Durango bordering Guzmán’s Sinaloa state in an impoverished area known as the Golden Triangle.
She and Guzmán married in 2007, when she had just turned 18 and he was 50. ‘I don’t imagine she really had many options to say no, I won’t marry you,’ Hernández said.
Coronel is pictured above in photos from her beauty queen days – before she met Guzman and married him in 2007 when she was 18
For a time, Coronel’s father, Ines Coronel Barreras, allegedly took charge of moving the Sinaloa cartel’s marijuana across the border into Arizona.
In 2013, he was arrested with one of his sons and other men in a warehouse with guns and hundreds of pounds of marijuana across the border from Douglas, Arizona
For years, Emma Coronel’s only public image was a photograph from 2007, when she was crowned the beauty queen of the festival in Canelas, the town where she grew up. She wore an enormous crown and a closed mouth smile, and looked directly at the camera.
After their wedding, she disappeared from public view until it was reported in 2011 that she had given birth to their twin daughters in Los Angeles County. On February 22, 2014, she was with Guzmán and their daughters in the Pacific resort town of Mazatlan when he was captured by Mexican marines.
Guzmán was sent to the maximum security Altiplano prison outside Mexico City while his lawyers fought his extradition.
On July 11, 2015, Guzmán escaped through a milelong tunnel that had been dug to the shower in his cell.
In January 2016, Mexican marines recaptured Guzman in Los Mochis, Sinaloa. The next month, Coronel gave her first ever interview to Hernández, complaining repeatedly about the conditions in which Guzmán was being held.
Coronel told Hernández she had learned of his escape from the Altiplano prison from television.
‘If I had known something I wouldn’t have been able to sleep or eat from desperation,’ she said. ‘I had no idea.’
Guzmán was extradited to the United States – but not before Coronel was involved in planning yet another escape attempt that never came to fruition, US prosecutors say.
Coronel and her designer wardrobe made a splash at the El Chapo trial. Photographers elbowed each other to capture her arrivals and departures.
Coronel and her designer wardrobe made a splash at the El Chapo trial with their seven-year-old twin girls in tow
Coronel arrives at Brooklyn Federal Court on January 29, 2019, for her husband’s trial
At one point, she wore a burgundy velvet blazer that matched one she had sent to Guzmán to wear that day. Afterward, she commissioned a courtroom artist to recreate the show of solidarity – a souvenir.
Coronel strode the courtroom confidently. She played with her hair while waiting for proceedings to start and chatted amicably with reporters sitting behind her. She carried crackers and cookies in her purse, sometimes offering snacks to reporters.
Every morning, Guzmán sought her out as he entered the courtroom. He smiled and waved hello.
One day she chatted and laughed in the courtroom with Mexican actor Alejandro Edda, who played Guzmán in the Netflix series ‘Narcos: México.’
In the trial’s sixth week, she brought her seven-year-old twin daughters, dressed in matching jeans and white jackets; their father clapped to them softly, as if to play with them.
After Guzmán was convicted Coronel posted a statement thanking Guzmán’s attorneys, and her mother and sister for taking care of the twins while she was attending the trial.
She said the trial had been difficult. Her name had come up in testimony: Dámaso López, one of Guzmán’s former lieutenants, testified that he met several times with Coronel and Guzman’s sons to plan the drug boss’ escape from the Altiplano prison. And he said Coronel had relayed messages from her husband.
Coronel was unrepentant. ‘What I can only say about that is that I have nothing to be ashamed of,’ she wrote. ‘I am not perfect but I consider myself a good human being and I have never hurt anyone intentionally.’
López, the editor of Noroeste, and Ismael Bojórquez, editor of Riodoce, a news outlet known for its investigations into Sinaloa’s underworld, both expressed shock that Coronel had traveled to and from the US after the trial.
Hernández suspects US authorities noticed Coronel’s change in lifestyle and spotted an opportunity to pressure her at a moment when she may be more open to betraying her husband.
Although Coronel has posted only five photos on Instagram (@therealemmacoronel), she has more than 563,000 followers.
For her last photo, posted in December, she posed in a white wedding dress, part of a fashion collection.
And for a photo posted on her July birthday, she was resplendent in red lipstick, a black leather jacket – and a crown in her long, dark hair, an echo of the small-town beauty queen she was so long ago.
‘Happy birthday to me,’ she wrote.
Coronel is pictured in one of the only five photos on her Instagram page