The untold truth of El Chapo's wife

If Hollywood has taught us anything about organized crime, it's that behind every successful mob boss there's a strong woman — or, at the very least, a complicit one. The beautiful Emma Coronel is like a real-life Carmela Soprano or Elvira Hancock, but the wife of infamous Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman actually puts both movie characters to shame with her big spending and unwavering support of her dangerous husband.

El Chapo rose to prominence as the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, founded in the mid 1980s in one of Mexico's poorer, mountainous regions. After several deadly battles with rival cartels, Sinaloa emerged as a dominant force in the drug smuggling trade, and the reach it has today is staggering. "Its tentacles stretch from New York City to Buenos Aires, and across the Atlantic into Europe and Africa," The Telegraph reports. "By some estimates the Sinaloa cartel is present in 50 countries." For a man of small stature (Chapo actually means "shorty" in Mexican slang), Guzman has cast a huge shadow, but it looks like the party is finally coming to an end. The infamous mob boss is currently behind bars in New York where he awaits what will be one of the biggest drug trafficking trials in U.S. history, but what is his wife's role in all of this? You're about to find out because this is the untold truth of Emma Coronel.

She was a teenage bride

Coronel was just 17 years old when she met El Chapo (who is more than 30 years her senior) at a party organized by her father. The drug baron was "attracted to Emma because she was as pure as the driven snow," said Jack Riley, the DEA boss who tracked El Chapo for 25 years before retiring (via the New York Post). 

"We crossed paths right in the center of the dance floor," Coronel said of the night they met (via the New York Post). "He flirtatiously smiled at me. After a while, a person told me, 'The man asks if you want to dance with him.' And I said, 'OK.' Because in the ranchos, even though you have a boyfriend, you can dance with every person who asks you to dance. So I said, 'Of course!'" El Chapo pursued her relentlessly in the months that followed, reportedly even rigging a local beauty pageant so Coronel took the crown. She has denied El Chapo had anything to do with her victory at the Coffee and Guava Festival that day, but he's apparently referred to her as his queen ever since. The couple tied the knot on her 18th birthday.

Violence erupted at her wedding

According to former DEA Agent Jack Riley, the wedding of El Chapo and Emma Coronel was marred by violence. A fight reportedly broke out between the groom's henchmen and a guest who happened to be a member of the Beltran Leyva family. Led by a man named Alfredo Beltran Leyva (known in the Mexican underworld by the alias "El Mochomo," meaning The Desert Ant), this family was comprised of known drug traffickers, and business reportedly got in the way of Coronel's big day. "One of the Beltran Leyva sons was slapped in the face at the wedding, which caused a major rift," Riley told the New York Post. He claims El Mochomo went "behind El Chapo's back" following the fight and managed to take control of the drug market in Chicago, a city that was part of El Chapo's territory. 

You might assume that all of this gang-related commotion came as a shock to the bride, but she was probably half-expecting trouble, seeing as she grew up in a cartel family. The reason Coronel and El Chapo were even at the same party the night they met was because her father is "a key Sinaloa cartel operative," according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury (via CNN). Inés Coronel Barreras was arrested in 2013 and sentencing to ten years behind bars in Mexico for smuggling marijuana into the United States.

She and her daughters are American citizens

Emma Coronel was born in Los Angeles after her mother went into labor while visiting relatives north of the border, but there was nothing accidental about her twin girls being born in the United States. In September 2011, a senior U.S. government official (who spoke on the condition of anonymity) told CNN that a pregnant Coronel arrived at a hospital in California to give birth to Emaly and Maria Joaquina before swiftly returning to Mexico with them. The government source confirmed that Coronel left a blank space at the "name of the father" section when she filled out the girls' birth certificates. 

Authorities were reportedly aware of Coronel's movements, but because she was an American citizen who hadn't broken any laws, they couldn't do a thing about it. Former DEA man Jack Riley recalled how frustrating the whole experience was when he spoke to the New York Post"We intercepted El Chapo on a cellphone saying that he really had the gringos by the neck," said Riley (who had a price put on his head by El Chapo.) "We heard him making fun of us, and there wasn't a damned thing we could do about it." The girls sometimes pop up on their mother's Instagram feed, though Coronel prefers not to show their faces, covering them with emojis.

Fun fact: According to the New York Post, El Chapo is "father to 19 children with at least six other women."

Was she involved in El Chapo's infamous jailbreak?

When El Chapo escaped from Mexico's highest security prison in 2015, it was described as "the jailbreak of the millennium," but it wasn't the first time the notorious drug lord had managed to bolt. Legend has it that he stowed away in a laundry truck when he broke out of Puente Grande prison In 2001, but according to The Guardian, that isn't true. "Guzman actually escaped in police uniform, with a police escort, a day after the minister for justice arrived on the scene to react to the 'break out,'" the British newspaper alleged.

It was a pretty audacious exit, but not as audacious as his escape from Altiplano prison in 2015. El Chapo had been behind bars for less than 17 months when he reportedly slipped into a tunnel in the showers. "The shower opening led to an elaborate tunnel almost a mile long," reported The New York Times. "The tunnel was equipped with lighting, ventilation and a motorcycle on rails." The tunnel ended at a construction site, from where El Chapo was able to make his escape. The convict clearly had a lot of help to pull this off, but how much did Emma Coronel know about it? Federal law enforcement sources told the New York Post that the mobster's wife was allegedly waiting for him at the construction site exit point. El Chapo was recaptured six months later.

She worries about becoming a widow

During his time on the run, El Chapo famously sat down for a heavily criticized interview with actor Sean Penn. After brokering the meeting via Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, Penn inadvertently led authorities right to the escaped convict. Police were able to ascertain that El Chapo was hiding out in the house of one of his henchmen, and when that person left late at night to collect a suspiciously large taco takeout order, they swooped in.

At the time of this writing, El Chapo is awaiting trial, and the authorities are taking no chances. According to The New York Times, "extraordinary steps" are being taken to keep witnesses alive and to watch El Chapo like a hawk. Speaking to Mexican TV channel Telemundo, Emma Coronel alleged that her husband is being abused by the guards. ""They are there with him, watching him in his cell. They don't let him sleep. He has no privacy, not even to go to the restroom…" she said (via the Mirror). "I am afraid for his life." 

She's been branded a liar

Emma Coronel insists her husband is just an ordinary guy; not a violent crime lord. "He's like any other man," she told Telemundo (via the Daily Beast). "Not violent. Not rude … I have never seen him get excited or be upset at anyone." The former beauty queen insists that, to her knowledge, her husband and family are law abiding citizens, but not many people seem to be buying it.

"She's lying," journalist Emmanuel Gallardo told the Daily Beast. "…What kind of wife doesn't know where her husband works?" Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy, said Coronel would have to "live in a cave" to be unaware of El Chapo's illicit activities. 

The crime boss has a reputation as some sort of hometown hero, described by government officials as a "modern day Robin Hood" who gives back to his community. That's the man Coronel wants the world to see, but prosecutors are preparing to tell a different story. According to The New York Times, more than 300,000 pages of documents and thousands of secretly recorded conversations are to be used in an effort to prove that El Chapo amassed his $14 billion fortune illegally.

Is she just a pawn in El Chapo's game?

Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy, said it's possible the young trophy wife was something of an unwitting playing piece in El Chapo's game. "This whole [human rights] thing is a script being played out," Carlsen told the Daily Beast. "It's damage control by the Sinaloan cartel — and Coronel herself is just a pawn." Former DEA deputy Jack Riley agrees that El Chapo has been using his spouse as a way to distract from his criminal activity. "Emma is really his mouthpiece," Riley told the New York Post. "He's a genius at P.R., and he is putting Emma up to all of this, to complain about his treatment and to stall for time. It actually worked for a while." 

It's unclear how complicit Coronel has been in her husband's shady dealings, but Carlsen believes that — even if she has been shielded from the darkest aspects of cartel life — she must know something. "Emma herself should be investigated," Carlsen said. "Her status as wife and mother should not make her exempt from prosecution."

She's a 'party freak'

It could well be blood money, but it spends just the same, and Emma Coronel knows that all too well. Former DEA deputy Jack Riley reportedly shadowed El Chapo's wife on several occasions, including during a visit to Washington, D.C. in 2017. Coronel came to the States to discuss her husband's case with various humanitarian groups, but she also found time for some retail therapy. "After her meeting in Washington, she headed to the mall," Riley told the New York Post. "She's a real party freak who has access to a lot of money." 

The following year, another ex-DEA agent told the New York Post that Coronel's spending was reaching perplexing levels. "The whole story with her is so surreal," the insider said. "She goes around and flaunts her wealth and lifestyle in front of everyone's face." Despite the dubious position her husband finds himself in, Coronel even decided to splash the cash for their twin daughters' birthdays in 2018, throwing the little ladies a lavish Barbie-themed bash. Her Instagram post from the day (which she captioned #BarbieStyle) was liked by more than 360,000 people.

She runs El Chapo's Instagram for him

Emma Coronel might have been proud of her big Barbie birthday party, but not all the comments she received on social media were positive. "You know that this was not possible without who knows how many deaths and tortures in Mexico," one unhappy follower said (via Fox News)Haters aren't a new thing for this mama, yet her presence on social media has increased as of August 2018, when she set up an official Instagram account for her incarcerated spouse. She captioned one snapshot of El Chapo wearing a suave suit with the words: "It is not the height, nor the weight, nor the muscles, nor the beauty that make you a great person, it is the heart and the humility." 

The people that El Chapo reportedly tortured and killed would argue that he has neither heart nor humility, but it appears that Coronel intends to continue this rhetoric, whether she truly believes it or not. The truth is: There's a very high chance that her girls will now grow up without their father, and (as far as we know), the twins never hurt anybody. Sadly, they've become two of the countless victims allegedly connected to El Chapo.