WASHINGTON, Nov 30 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge sentenced the wife of imprisoned Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to three years in prison on Tuesday, after she pleaded guilty to helping the Sinaloa drug cartel.
Before her sentencing in a federal court in Washington, Emma Coronel Aispuro, 32, pleaded with U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras to show her mercy.
"With all due respect, I address you today to express my true regret for any and all harm that I may have done, and I ask that you and all the citizens of this country forgive me," she said in Spanish through an interpreter.
She added that she feared the judge might find it difficult to forgive her because she is Guzman's wife. "Perhaps for this reason you feel there is a need for you to be harder on me, but I pray that you not do that," she added.
Coronel pleaded guilty in June to three counts of conspiring to distribute illegal drugs, conspiring to launder money and of engaging in financial dealings with the Sinaloa drug cartel.
Federal prosecutors on Tuesday asked that a four-year prison term be imposed on Coronel, adding that she would be forfeiting $1.5 million as part of her sentence.
"While the overall effect of the defendant's conduct was significant, the defendant's actual role was a minimal one. The defendant acted primarily in support of her husband," federal prosecutor Anthony Nardozzi said.
He noted that after her arrest, she "quickly accepted responsibility for her criminal conduct."
Coronel, a U.S.-born former beauty queen who married Guzman while she was a teenager, was arrested at Dulles International Airport outside Washington in February. She and Guzman have nine-year-old twin daughters together.
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.
He was convicted in February 2019 of drug trafficking, conspiracy, kidnapping, murder and other charges, and later sentenced to life in prison.
'Good luck to you'
Coronel's attorney on Tuesday stressed that she was swept into the world of drug trafficking while still a minor, and deserved mercy.
"She met Joaquin Guzman when she was a minor. She was 17 years old, and she married him on her 18th birthday," said Jeffrey Lichtman, a defense attorney who also represented Guzman in his U.S. trial three years ago.
Lichtman added that Coronel now finds herself in danger, noting that anonymous law enforcement sources told news media that she was cooperating with the government.
"I'm not sure that she could ever go back home," he said.
Contreras said that he took her background into consideration when weighing the sentence, as well as the fact that she will be the sole caretaker for her children due to her husband's life sentence.
"Good luck to you," he told her as the hearing concluded. "I hope that you raise your twins in a different environment than you've experienced today."
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone, Rosalba O'Brien and Paul Simao)