El Chapo trial: Drug kingpin’s mistress tells all

Young Mexican woman, facing life in prison, describes humiliating ordeal with little reward

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman after his arrest in May 2017 in Mexico City. Photograph:  AFP/Getty Images

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman after his arrest in May 2017 in Mexico City. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

 

If you have ever wondered how someone becomes the mistress of a drug lord, consider the cautionary tale of Lucero Guadalupe Sánchez López. It does not have a happy ending.

Born in Cosalá, Mexico, a mining and farming town in the Sinaloa mountains, Sánchez started working at 8 years old selling empanadas in the street. At 10, she was spending her mornings in the fields, picking corn and tomatoes, and her afternoons in school. At 16 – after two years as an “early childhood teacher” – she got involved with a man from a pot-growing region of Durango. He beat her. She left him. She was barely out of her teens.

Then, in 2010, Sánchez met one of the most famous men in Sinaloa – maybe all of Mexico – Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the notorious crime lord known as El Chapo. She was 21. He was in his 50s and married. But the following year, the two embarked on a troubled romance. The affair began with trysts at Guzmán’s marble-floored, ocean-view safe house in Los Cabos and ended eight years later with Sánchez, in dyed hair and prison clothes, appearing as a witness at his trial.

Lucero Guadalupe Sánchez López (29) a Mexican former lover of Joaquin Guzman, who took the stand in the trial of the Mexican drug lord. Photograph: Eastern District of New York/AFP/Getty Images
Lucero Guadalupe Sánchez López (29) a Mexican former lover of Joaquin Guzman, who took the stand in the trial of the Mexican drug lord. Photograph: Eastern District of New York/AFP/Getty Images

From the start of the trial, in US district court in Brooklyn, Guzmán has been portrayed as a serial philanderer who was constantly juggling his many wives and girlfriends – often spying on all of them at once. But how he treated Sánchez, now 29, was particularly dark, according to her testimony, which began last week and continued Tuesday morning.

She worked for the crime lord, she told jurors, buying bulk-weight pot for him, setting up front companies and ensuring his safe house shelves were always stocked with skin lotion, underwear and tennis shoes. For this, she got little in return, she said – except humiliation. Because of Guzmán, Sánchez not only lost her job as a local lawmaker, but was also indicted on drug conspiracy charges by the US government. She is facing life in prison.

Safe house

The humiliation continued in the last week. On Thursday, Guzmán largely ignored Sánchez as she recalled in tears how, in 2014, the two of them were in bed together – Guzmán naked – when a heavily armed team of Mexican marines burst into their safe house in Culiacán and sent them fleeing into the sewers through a secret tunnel hidden under a bathtub. While Sánchez told her tale, Guzmán’s wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, listened in the courtroom.

On Tuesday morning, the married couple took what seemed to be symbolic revenge on her, appearing in court in matching burgundy velvet smoking jackets – the kingpin’s with a dark red handkerchief tucked in the lapel pocket. The message seemed abundantly clear: After everything, Guzmán and Coronel were still together. Sánchez, in drab blue prison garb, was on her own.

The wife of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Emma Coronel Aispuro, arriving at the US federal courthouse in Brooklyn on January 14th. Photograph: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images
The wife of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Emma Coronel Aispuro, arriving at the US federal courthouse in Brooklyn on January 14th. Photograph: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

The sartorial snub felt particularly sharp given that last week prosecutors introduced intimate text messages between the two in which Guzmán repeatedly called Sánchez “love” and she referred to him as “Daddy.” Sánchez seemed to adore the kingpin, telling jurors last week that on one of her marijuana buying trips for him, she purposefully bought pot that contained a lot of seeds. She explained that she was hoping he would get “upset” and ask her to come home.

On Tuesday, Sánchez continued the tale of their escape from the marines, testifying that after she and Guzmán had fled through the tunnel, they went to Mazatlán, where they eventually separated. A few days later, she recalled, she discovered on TV that the crime lord had been taken into custody with his wife at a hotel.

‘My Queen, Who is Loved’

Even though he was imprisoned, the kingpin kept in touch with her, she said, sending a letter that opened with the saccharine salutation, “My Queen, Who is Loved.” The letter – placed into evidence as a government exhibit – bore instructions for Sánchez to obtain a fake ID so she could visit him in jail.

But when she did, in September 2014, photos of her visit were leaked to the media, causing a sensation. At the time, Sánchez was still a lawmaker from Sinaloa. In the photos, she also appeared to be in the latter stages of a pregnancy. For the next year and a half, Sánchez denied her affair with Guzmán in interviews and Facebook posts – at one point telling a reporter that she had never even spoken to the kingpin. In September 2016, she was finally impeached, ending her four-year stint as a lawmaker.

Less than a year later, Sánchez was arrested by American authorities while attempting to enter the United States at a border crossing in San Diego. It remains unclear why she was trying to get to California, but she told jurors she was “extremely frightened” when border agents stopped her. She said she tried to flee back to Mexico, but was “physically taken down”.

Even that was not her last indignity. On cross-examination Tuesday morning, Guzmán’s lawyers questioned her credibility, suggesting that it was not believable that the world-famous leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel had turned to a “20-something, non-narco trafficker” to buy his marijuana. The lawyers also asked why she had so adamantly denied her relationship with Guzmán.

“Out of fear,” she finally answered. “Because first and foremost, I love my family and Mr Guzmán might have hurt them – or me.” – New York Times