The former beauty queen wife of Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán was sentenced to three years in prison on Tuesday.
Emma Coronel’s sentencing was one year below what U.S. federal prosecutors recommended earlier this month after she had acknowledged in June to conspiring to traffic drugs and launder money for the Sinaloa Cartel kingpin.
Coronel, 32, who gave birth to twin girls after marrying the drug kingpin when she was 18, could be released in about two years. She has been in federal custody since February 22 when she arrested at Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
‘I hope you raise your twins in a different environment than you’ve experienced to date,’ U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Rudolph Contreras said.
The U.S.-born Coronel’s legal team has 14 days to appeal the sentencing.
Emma Coronel, the wife of Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, was sentenced to three years in prison in a Washington, D.C. federal court Tuesday
Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán was sentenced to life in prison by a New York federal court in 2019. He is being held at the ADX Florence super maximum security facility in Colorado
The judge said she would also pay $1.5 million in a restitution deal agreed before the hearing.
Attorney Jeffrey Lichtman asked Contreras to show Coronel mercy and to consider that she was just 17 years old when she first met El Chapo in 2006 and married him a year later after turning 18.
Coronel was looking at a much longer sentence, but prosecutors made the recommendation that she only be sentenced to four years, stressing that she had a low-level role with the notorious cartel, turned herself in and pleaded guilty to her crimes.
‘While the overall effect of the defendant’s conduct was significant, the defendant’s actual role was a minimal one,’ U.S. federal prosecutor Anthony Nardozzi said. ‘The defendant acted primarily in support of her husband.’
The Californian, who will have to report periodically following her release, begged Contreras for leniency despite being the wife one on the world’s most powerful and recognizable kingpins since Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
‘Maybe that’s why you feel the obligation to be a little harder on me. But I beg you not to,’ Coronel said in court. ‘Today the suffering that I have caused my family when facing this situation hurts me a lot. My parents instilled in me respect, gratitude and honesty but they also taught me to accept my mistakes and ask for forgiveness for them.’
Coronel has not been able to see the couple’s nine-year-old twin daughters since her imprisonment due to visitation restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and asked Contreras to consider the separation as part of his sentencing decision.
‘They were already growing up without one of their parents,’ she said. ‘That is why I beg you not to allow them to grow up without their mother, too.’
The ruling came a day after one of Coronel’s lawyers said he was content with knowing his client will not be spending the rest of her life behind bars.
‘Part of me is happy that the government recognized her minimal role, part of me is very sad because she suffered greatly over the last year,’ criminal defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said in an interview that aired on Noticias Telemundo on Monday.
Coronel, who was born in California and was only 18 years old when she married a then-50-year-old El Chapo in 2007, pleaded guilty on June 10 to the federal charges of helping her drug lord husband.
El Chapo was convicted on February 12, 2019, and is serving a life sentence at the ADX Florence super maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado.
The former beauty queen was looking at a lengthy jail sentence before her legal team sought the safety valve exception, which required Coronel to meet a series of guidelines that would reduce her sentence.
Under the exception, she would have had to prove she was not the ‘leader, organizer, or supervisor in the commission of the offense’ and that she can show she did not use ‘violence in the commission of the offense, and the offense must not have resulted in serious injury.’
The safety valve exception also required Coronel to ‘tell the government all that he knows of the offense and any related misconduct.’
It appears she checked off each of the boxes.
‘Emma Coronel is not going away to jail for the rest of her life and she wasn’t even going to jail for 10 years,’ Lichtman told the network. ‘She was a very minimal participant.’
Prosecutors also asked that Emma Coronel be sentenced to five years of supervised release and pay a $1.5 million fine, but the judge did not order her to make the payment due to uncertainties over whether she could comply
Emma Coronel was only 18 when she married a then 50-year-old Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán in 2007 and soon after gave birth to twin girls
As part of her plea agreement with prosecutors, Coronel admitted to acting as a courier between Guzman and other members of the Sinaloa cartel while he was being held in Mexico’s Altiplano prison following his 2014 arrest.
Guzman used those communications to plan his 2015 escape from the prison, through an underground tunnel built by the cartel leading to the shower in his cell.
The drug lord was recaptured in January 2016 and extradited one year later to the United States.
Lichtman also told Noticias Telemundo that Coronel would not be placed in a witness protection program and would not cooperate with the federal prosecutors in any future investigations of the transnational drug trafficking organization that El Chapo co-founded and is now under the control of his four sons and an old associate, Ismael ‘El Mayo’ Zambada.
Mariel Colón, who also forms part of a defense team that also represented El Chapo, told Univision earlier this month that Coronel would not provide any information on the cartel to federal investigators because doing so would have exposed her daughters and family members.
‘She has (her two) girls in Mexico and it is very well known what happens to cooperators or to the family of collaborators,’ Colón said. ‘Then why expose, risk the lives of her girls, the life of her family, when there is another resource that can help her and allow her to leave in the same time that she would have left if she had cooperate.’