After pleading guilty to helping her husband run his multibillion-dollar criminal empire, the wife of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was sentenced Tuesday to three years in prison.
She will join her infamous husband in the U.S. supermax prison, where he has already been locked up for life.
According to federal law enforcement officials, the notorious drug lord's cartel supplied at least 80 percent of all illicit drugs to metro Chicago's streets for several decades. During his heyday, El Chapo was Chicago's Public Enemy Number One.
At a hearing in Washington federal court, prosecutors said that Emma Coronel Aispuro also smuggled a GPS watch disguised as food to her husband in 2015 so he could make a dramatic escape through a tunnel dug underneath a prison in Mexico. They were able to pinpoint his location and reach him because of that. He was recaptured the following year.
Aispuro was sentenced Tuesday by Washington, D.C. District Judge Rudolph Contreras. His court hearing began with Aispuro being identified by case number 21-255. Aispuro was caught up in legal trouble after handling billions of dollars in cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and fentanyl distribution, according to investigators.
The prosecution sought four years in prison, but District Judge Rudolph Contreras reduced the sentence because of her small role within a much larger enterprise. Despite her arrest, the cartel's harm appears not to have decreased, he said. Participants seem to be plentiful, he said.
Her minimum sentence was 10 years in prison, but she was subject to a so-called "safety valve" provision because she was not a leader, did not have a criminal record, and was not involved in the cases of extreme violence.
Her defense attorneys also cited the fact that she was 17 and from an impoverished family when she met Guzman and later married him when she was 18 years old. Jeffrey Lichtman, her defense attorneys, said it all began when she was a very impressionable minor and married to a powerful man over three decades older.
In particular, Lichtman raised concerns over reports published by some news organizations of Aispuro's cooperation with federal authorities in the El Chapo investigation, which will likely prevent her from ever returning to Mexico.
In Mexico, cartel leaders have a general policy of killing, many times by public beheading or hanging, anyone who is deemed to have helped the government.
Lichtman says Aispuro's immediate acceptance of responsibility saved the government a significant amount of time and money.
In a plea deal with federal prosecutors, she previously pleaded guilty to three federal offenses. $1.5 million was also surrendered to the government.
In the charges, there is a charge of knowingly and willfully shipping heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine for several years. Furthermore, she admitted to engaging in transactions with a foreign narcotics trafficker as well as money-laundering conspiracy charges.
In addition to the tunnel, she helped Guzman smuggle messages to his subordinates while he was behind bars, allowing him to maintain control of the Sinaloa cartel even while in prison.
Even without Mr. Guzmán, the Sinaloa cartel remains one of Mexico's most powerful criminal organizations. His sons, his brother and his longtime partner, Ismael Zambada Garcia, are said to run it in an uneasy alliance. All three have been indicted in the United States.