The former mistress of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman testified about his naked run through a secret tunnel that started under his bathtub, having to trim the pant legs of the famously short drug kingpin, and her work for the Sinaloa cartel. The former Mexican lawmaker also spoke in court of her confused feelings about their affair.
Minutes after taking the stand in federal court on Thursday, 29-year-old Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez Lopez was asked what her relationship was like with the notorious cartel leader.
“Until today, I’m still confused, I thought we were romantically involved as partners,” she said through an interpreter.
From the courtroom pews, Guzman’s wife of 11 years, Emma Coronel, also 29, let out a short laugh.
An hour into her testimony, during a brief break, Sanchez began to sob. The mike attached to her prison shirt was still turned on, and the sounds were amplified through the courtroom.
Sanchez, arrested 1½ years ago in San Diego and charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, told jurors the riveting story of how Guzman pulled her into the Sinaloa cartel, one of the world’s most powerful drug networks, when she was 21.
The pair began seeing each other in 2011, and he soon told her he needed her to be his point person for the marijuana farmers in the mountains of Mexico’s Sinaloa state, she said. She’d never worked in drug trafficking, she said, but because she was from the area, Guzman thought that would give him an edge with the farmers.
He was right. She was soon coordinating with him and his pilot on regular air shipments of 400 kilograms of marijuana at a time. “That’s how much the planes could carry,” she explained.
She described how she’d be in the mountains, “climbing onto a small hill every morning and every afternoon,” so she could get a cellphone signal to communicate with Guzman about the shipments.
He taught her to pick marijuana based on the “three B’s: buena, bonita, barata” — “good, pretty, cheap.” Guzman wanted to pay the farmers on credit, she said — but she refused to make that deal.
“If they were on credit, they wouldn’t get the money,” she said.
Sanchez said she was never paid by Guzman, whom others referred to as her “husband.”
She testified she acted as a wife to him and would buy and tailor clothes for him. Referring to his famously short stature, she said she would buy him size 32/32 trousers, but “would have to cut his pants” because they were too long.
Text messages between the two that were read to jurors showed Guzman’s involvement in the marijuana trafficking, as well as the depth of their relationship. He often mixed telling her “I love you” with getting details about the latest marijuana shipment, or questions about quality.
“Love, don’t buy anymore with seeds,” one text from Guzman said.
“Yes, love,” she replied.
In 2012, she helped him set up a company in Mexico City as a front to launder money from his cartel, she testified. The company was meant to look as if it were making and exporting juices, she said, and Guzman instructed her to “find a low-income person who could be easily manipulated” to incorporate it.
She said Guzman also set up front companies in Los Angeles and Ecuador.
By the end of 2012 when the pair were living together in one of his homes in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, their relationship was becoming strained, she said. Throughout their relationship, she felt frightened around the powerful man 30 years her senior but was afraid to leave him, she testified.
“I didn’t want him to mistrust me, because I thought he could hurt me,” she said. She also feared he might try to get her siblings involved in the cartel, and she wanted to keep them away.
Once, after he learned of a betrayal, Guzman told her that “whoever betrayed him was going to die,” even if they were relatives or women, she testified.
By 2013, the relationship had ended, she said, but continued contact from Guzman made it seem “like it would never end.” In 2014, she ran successfully for legislative office in her hometown in Sinaloa state — “with many votes,” she said. She was later removed from office.
In February 2014, Guzman messaged her again via their usual communication device, a BlackBerry, and asked her to come to one of his homes. That meeting brought one of the most traumatic nights of her life, she said — a raid that led to Guzman’s eventual arrest on Feb. 22, 2014.
Earlier in the day, jurors had heard harrowing testimony from a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent, giving a play-by-play of the search for Guzman with the help of a select crew of Mexican marines to avoid the Mexican police and their corruption.
Sanchez gave gripping details of what it was like to be inside the house with marines pounding on reinforced doors and helicopters buzzing overhead.
Sanchez, Guzman, one of his secretaries and his maid ran into the bathroom, where the bathtub lifted up, revealing stairs leading to a dark tunnel.
“For me, it was horrible,” she said. It was dark, humid, filled with mud — and she could feel water “coming up my legs.”
“How long were you in the tunnel?” the prosecutor asked.
“Long enough to traumatize me,” she said.
Eventually they made it out, maybe an hour later, near a river in Culiacan.
Guzman “ran off first,” and “he left us behind” to find their way through the dark, she said.
What was he wearing? the prosecutor asked.
“Nothing,” Sanchez responded. “He was naked.”
Sanchez is being held in jail on her own drug charges. She’s expected to continue her testimony when the trial resumes Tuesday.