Emma Coronel (R) seen at the trial of El Chapo (L) in Brooklyn in 2019. Photos by Getty.
Emma Coronel, the wife of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, is being set free today after spending less than three years behind bars for her role in her husband's billion-dollar global organized crime empire.But when she leaves the residential reentry office in Long Beach, California that was her last stop in the U.S penitentiary system, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons roster, Coronel is going to have to make some tough choices.
The mother of twin girls that she had with El Chapo, Coronel, who is 34, was a constant presence at his high-profile trial in 2019 in New York, at the end of which he was sentenced to life behind bars. A former beauty queen who inspired a “look” that can kill back in her home state, she married the fugitive drug lord when she was 18 years old, and some 30 years his junior, in rural Sinaloa where they both grew up. El Chapo has requested that his wife visit him in his SuperMax prison cell in Colorado once she’s out. It’s unclear whether Coronel reciprocates her husband’s desire to see her. Now a household name and face in the U.S as well as back home– Coronel has more important matters to consider, and will have to decide what comes next for her. Should she stay (in the U.S) or should she go (to Mexico)?A Mexican and American citizen, Coronel was detained in February 2021 when she flew into Washington D.C. Sources in the U.S told VICE News that she actually turned herself in, and other sources in Mexico who she turned to for security alleged to VICE News that she got jumpy after El Chapo was sentenced to life in prison, and began to fear for her own survival and her young children.
She was sentenced in November 2021 to three years behind bars after she pleaded guilty to charges that she helped Guzmán escape from prison. She also admitted to helping run his drug-trafficking operation which has tentacles around the world, and generated a fortune– some of which she spent on her lavish lifestyle–through the sale of weed, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and, increasingly, deadly and illicit fentanyl.At the time of Coronel’s sentencing, observers said that she got a relatively light prison stint considering the weight of the charges she pleaded guilty to, which according to sentencing guidelines can mandate up to 14 years behind bars. Speculation abounded that she had agreed to cooperate with U.S prosecutors in an effort to minimize her sentence–an everyday game of chess that takes place between incarcerated individuals (especially those who plead guilty), and prosecutors aiming to land bigger criminal fish.And bigger fish there are.
Four of El Chapo’s adult sons–to whom she is closer in age to than to her husband–have taken over running a faction of the Sinaloa Cartel since their father was incarcerated, and are known as a collective called “los Chapitos.” Earlier this year, when Coronel was still in prison, one of those sons–Ovidio–was finally captured (on the second attempt) by the Mexican government, likely with support from the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The clashes that took place around his arrest terrorized the residents of Culiacan, and had the city on lockdown for days after. Subsequently, the U.S government released a slew of new charges against Los Chapitos, including allegations that they tested the potency of their illicitly produced fentanyl on humans before sending it across the border to the U.S, and that they fed their victims to tigers, dead or alive. Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, one of the original OG’s of the Sinaloa Cartel, also remains at large.If Coronel cooperated during her time behind bars, and what she told the U.S government if she did, will remain between them. But to those watching in Sinaloa, the timing around the arrest of Ovidio and the new charges that recently emerged don’t look good. It’s common for women in organized crime–even those much higher up than Emma Coronel–to cooperate once they’re in custody. A VICE News investigation into the rise of women in the Sinaloa Cartel, also the focus of the book “NARCAS”, profiled a number of women who were caught after bossing it for the Sinaloa Cartel across Latin America. Nearly all pleaded guilty once caught, apart from one woman - Luz Fajardo Campos, who went to trial and was sentenced to 22 years in prison for the drug trafficking ring she ran out of Sinaloa. Like the men they work alongside, many women in Latin America see the drug business as a career opportunity, offering money, status, and power in a region that tends to hold them down.“Coronel has a second chance at life and she’s very lucky that she is a U.S. citizen and can remain here with her children,” said Bonnie Klapper, a New York-based criminal lawyer who has represented a number of high-profile female drug traffickers. “Most women in her circumstances, end up being deported back to the country of origin, and are subjected to the same awful conditions that caused them to become traffickers in the first place.”Coronel has given a number of interviews to the media, and also appeared on the VH1 Cartel Crew series in 2019. Given the changes that have happened whilst she was behind bars, she might now think twice about maintaining such a high media profile, or going home to Mexico.