Coronel, 31, a dual U.S.-Mexican citizen, agreed to cooperate with U.S. prosecutors and admitted to three federal counts: conspiracy to commit money laundering; conspiracy to aid and abet the distribution of heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines for importation into the United States with Guzmán’s Sinaloa Cartel; and engaging in transactions that had the effect of evading sanctions on her husband.
In signed plea papers, Coronel acknowledged that the government could show she communicated Guzmán’s orders for his successful 2015 tunnel prison escape to three of Guzmán’s sons and a fourth alleged co-conspirator.
She acknowledged evidence showing that at her husband’s direction, she received five bulk cash deliveries totaling $1 million in heroin proceeds owed to Guzmán from a man she knew as “Cleto,” according to plea papers. She delivered some of the money through intermediaries to Mexico’s maximum security Altiplano prison to arrange for favorable prison conditions and facilitate the escape, the documents state.
Coronel was aware of her husband’s cartel role from the outset of her marriage and benefited from direct monetary support, residences and rent-producing commercial and residential properties bought with drug proceeds, she acknowledged.
She also agreed the government could show that her husband used her to deliver messages to cartel associates, helping him in this manner to maintain control of the organization and continue to smuggle drugs into the United States while he was imprisoned.
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras ordered Coronel to remain detained, pending sentencing Sept. 15, after telling the defendant that prosecutors agreed to recommend leniency if she cooperates but that he was not bound by any such request.
A plea agreement otherwise estimates a sentencing range of nine to 11 years in prison under advisory federal guidelines.
Coronel and the couple’s mythologized marriage gained notoriety during her husband’s trial in federal court in Brooklyn in 2019, which she attended daily, at times blowing kisses to her husband from a reserved second-row seat. She cut a glamorous figure in stiletto heels and oversize sunglasses.
Guzmán was sentenced to life in prison that July.
Coronel was arrested Feb. 23 at Dulles International Airport in Virginia and has been jailed without bond.
In Mexico, Coronel projected the image of an untouchable figure, despite her links to the world’s most notorious drug trafficker.
She made an appearance on the VH1 reality series “Cartel Crew” and was nicknamed “the Kardashian of Sinaloa.” She launched a clothing line in her husband’s name. On her Instagram account, she posed for a photo wearing a gold crown. In television interviews, she described her romance with Guzmán. “He won me over with kindness, and with his manners,” she said in one.
“I am not aware that he deals drugs. I’m in love with him,” she said in another.
Coronel grew up in Sinaloa state, the traditional heart of Mexico’s illegal drug industry, but she was born in California, making her a U.S. citizen. She slipped over the border in 2011 to give birth to the couple’s twin daughters, María Joaquina and Emali, in a Los Angeles County hospital.
Coronel is a former beauty queen who was introduced at age 17 to El Chapo, then 49. She is the daughter of Inés Coronel Barreras, a Sinaloa cartel lieutenant later sentenced to prison for trafficking drugs and firearms. Her uncle, Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, was at one time a partner of El Chapo’s.
Coronel says that when she met her future husband, she had no idea he was involved in drug trafficking, and she continued to maintain his innocence for years. Guzmán’s Sinaloa Cartel played a major role in the violence that has left more than 300,000 Mexicans dead over the past 15 years. But in a 2016 interview with Telemundo, his wife said that “of course he is not violent.”
Prosecutors said her husband periodically messaged her while he was on the run from Mexican authorities and allegedly referred to the logistics of drug trafficking.
Charging papers allege that beginning in about 2007 — when she turned 18 and married Guzmán — Coronel conspired with others to transport illegal narcotics, mostly marijuana, into the United States in amounts that foreseeably exceeded quantities set by federal statute as punishable by at least 10 years and up to life in prison for first offenders.
Her conduct allegedly continued at least until her husband’s extradition to the United States on Jan. 19, 2017, the charges state.
Coronel allegedly committed the money laundering conspiracy and property transaction offenses between 2007 and about Dec. 3, 2019, or approximately 10 months after her husband’s conviction and trial and 15 days after she appeared speaking aboard a yacht in a U.S. reality cable television show about mafia families.
U.S. prosecutor Anthony Nardozzi said Coronel acknowledged the government could show that she controlled and derived rental income from commercial and residential properties owned by her husband. U.S. citizens are barred by federal law from certain financial transactions with government-designated drug kingpins.
Kevin Sieff and Mary Beth Sheridan in Mexico City contributed to this report.