RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Unless you've been closely following the case of the jailed Mexican drug boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, you likely wouldn't know the name of his wife - Emma Coronel Aispuro. Coronel was arrested Monday as she arrived in the U.S. and charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana in the U.S. Authorities paint her not just as a loyal spouse but as a key partner in Guzman's billion-dollar organized crime enterprise.
Associated Press reporter Michael Balsamo has reported extensively on El Chapo and his wife, and he joins me now. Michael, thanks for being here.
MICHAEL BALSAMO: Good morning, Rachel. Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: First off, I mean, how did this go down? How was Emma Coronel apprehended?
BALSAMO: So we don't have a ton of details on exactly what happened, but we know that she was arrested yesterday at Dulles International Airport in Virginia. And the Justice Department is accusing her of helping her husband essentially run his multibillion-dollar drug cartel and also plot his escape from a Mexican prison in 2015. As you say, she's been formally charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana in the U.S. And we know that she'll appear in federal court in Washington, D.C., later today.
MARTIN: So Emma Coronel was really visible a couple years ago during El Chapo's trial in 2019, a trial that happened in Brooklyn. Can you just give a sense of who she is? What's her story?
BALSAMO: Yeah, so she's a former beauty queen who was obviously arrested yesterday. She's a dual citizen of the U.S. and Mexico. And, you know, there's about 30 years apart between Ms. Coronel and her husband. They've been together since at least 2007. And we know that they have twin daughters who were born in 2011. Her father had been arrested in 2013, along with one of his sons and several other men, in a warehouse with hundreds of pounds of marijuana across the border in Arizona. And months earlier from that arrest, the Treasury Department had announced sanctions against her father for his alleged drug trafficking.
But we know that, as you say, she was very visible during her husband's trial. She appeared in court near daily. She sat right in the gallery, sometimes blowing kisses to him, even when prosecutors kind of laid out their evidence, accusing her in open court of being part of this drug cartel.
MARTIN: So El Chapo is currently serving a life sentence in a U.S. federal prison. Now his wife has been arrested. Just lay out - what is the state of their operation?
BALSAMO: Yeah, so the cartel itself obviously has diminished. The drug trade coming into the U.S., you know, remains high. It's a top priority for the Drug Enforcement Administration. But this is a very significant charge for the Biden Justice Department to bring. But there are still some kind of unanswered questions here, primarily why now?
As I say, you know, a lot of these allegations have been brought up in open court during her husband's trial, and now we know that she's being charged with a single count of conspiracy by criminal complaint and arrested at an airport in Virginia - so still, some kind of unanswered questions about why it is the Justice Department is pursuing this case now. Whether they have, you know, more significant evidence than they did at the time of the trial, we do know that there's at least one cooperating witness who had been part of these alleged plots.
MARTIN: And just in seconds remaining - I mean, her husband's serving life in prison. What are the penalties she could face here?
BALSAMO: Yeah, so this is a pretty significant charge. You know, she's facing a significant sentence in federal prison as well. And, you know, we'll have to see exactly what security measures will be put in place. Obviously, her husband is serving a life sentence in a supermax federal prison, and during his trial, security was so tight that they had to shut down the Brooklyn Bridge for a motorcade to bring him from a federal jail in Manhattan...
BALSAMO: ...To the courthouse in Brooklyn.
MARTIN: All right. Michael Balsamo with The Associated Press. Thank you.
BALSAMO: Thank you for having me.
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