A former mistress of Mexican drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman has told a courtroom how she was left “traumatised” after a harrowing escape from one of his safehouses in 2014 – as they were pursued by US marines.
Testifying for the prosecution in Guzman’s US trial, Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez Lopez gave an emotional account of the couple’s relationship, saying at times she feared for her safety. During her testimony, Guzman’s wife Emma Coronel Aispuro, watched impassively from the gallery.
“I didn’t want for him to mistrust me because I thought he could also hurt me,” Lopez, 29, said.
“I was confused about my own feelings over him. Sometimes I loved him and sometimes I didn’t.”
She said once, while the two were eating dinner in 2012, Guzman told her that anyone who betrayed him would die.
Guzman, 61, who was extradited to the United States in 2017, has been on trial since November on charges of trafficking cocaine, heroin and other drugs into the country as leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. His trial has provided a window into the operations of the cartel, one of the world’s biggest drug trafficking organisations.
The testimony by Lopez is the first by someone with whom Guzman had a romantic relationship. Other cooperating witnesses have been business associates, primarily other drug traffickers.
Sanchez served in Sinaloa’s state congress from 2013 to 2016, when she was investigated for having shown false documents to visit Guzman in jail in 2014. She denied the accusation at the time.
Sanchez, who was nicknamed ‘Chapodiputada’ (Chapo deputy) by local media, was arrested in June 2017 on US drug charges while trying to cross the US – Mexico border. She pleaded guilty last October and is now cooperating with prosecutors.
She said her romantic relationship with Guzman began in early 2011, and that she began working for him shortly afterwards, although he never paid her. She described how he sent her to Mexico’s “Golden Triangle” – a fertile drug-producing region that includes part of Sinaloa – to buy marijuana and send it back to him on planes.
Sanchez said the relationship frayed in late 2012 but she continued to see Guzman occasionally. She said she was with him in February 2014 when a team of Mexican marines stormed his safe house in Culiacan in the middle of the night.
Guzman, she said, led her into the master bathroom, where the bathtub lifted on hydraulics to reveal wooden steps leading underground into a dark, damp, sewage tunnel.
“It was very dark and I was very scared,” Sanchez said.
She said she followed Guzman, who was completely naked, through a tunnel leading away from the house, feeling water against her legs. When a prosecutor asked her how long she was there, she guessed more than an hour – “enough to traumatise me.”
Sanchez’ testimony followed an account of the same escape from the perspective of a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent working with the marines who stormed the safe house.
Though Guzman escaped from the house, the DEA’s Victor Vazquez told jurors that he was captured several days later in a beachfront hotel in nearby Mazatlan.
Guzman would go on to escape from a Mexican prison the following year, before being recaptured in 2016.
Vazquez said knowledge of the 2014 capture operation was restricted to the team of marines, for fear of corruption among Mexican law enforcement.
It follows testimony from a Colombian drug trafficker earlier in the week, who claimed Guzman had boasted about paying a $100million bribe to the former president of Mexico to call off a manhunt for him.
Alex Cifuentes, who described himself as Guzman’s right-hand man, made the claims in court on Wednesday.
The former president – Enrique Peña Nieto – has previously denied taking bribes. His former chief of staff rejected the accusation on social media.
“The declarations of the Colombian drug trafficker in New York are false, defamatory and absurd,” wrote Francisco Guzman in a post on Twitter, adding the Pena Nieto government “located, detained and extradited” the Mexican kingpin.
The allegations are among the most explosive to emerge from Guzman’s trial, which began in November and has so far featured testimony of lower-level corruption.
Cifuentes testified he had told US prosecutors that Nieto initially reached out to Guzman, asking for $250m. Cifuentes told the prosecutors the bribe was paid in October 2012, when Pena Nieto was president-elect, he testified.
Cifuentes also said testified that Guzman once told him he had received a message from the Mexican president saying he did not have to live in hiding anymore.