- In recent months, US authorities have arrested the wives of three Sinaloa Cartel figures, including "El Chapo" Guzmán.
- The arrests shed light on what cartel operatives and security experts say is the overlooked but important role wives play in Mexican organized crime.
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Ciudad Juarez, MEXICO – The infamous Sinaloa Cartel is relying on its wives to keep its more complicated operations going, according to cartel operatives, security analysts, and government indictments.
The arrests of Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of jailed kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, and of Mia and Olivia Flores, wives of Pedro and Margarito Flores, twin brothers and distributors for the cartel, offer a glimpse of the influence kingpins' wives have over the cartel's operations.
On February 22, Coronel was arrested at Dulles International Airport in Virginia and charged with helping her husband operate the cartel he led for decades. Coronel pleaded guilty to drug-trafficking and conspiracy charges in June.
Aispuro is also accused of aiding at least two of Guzman's escapes by planning and passing messages, the first in 2012 when he slipped away from US and Mexican authorities in Cabo San Lucas and the latter in 2015 when he escaped from Mexico's Altiplano maximum-security prison.
"The Defendant agrees that by providing assistance to Guzman, she aided and abetted the objectives of the DTO as a whole," prosecutors said in Coronel's 12-page indictment.
According to a Sinaloa Cartel operative in Culiacan, the cartel's home turf, Coronel's arrest is "surprising" but the accusations aren't.
"Authorities don't pay much attention to the wives [of cartel members]. That's what was pretty much surprising about this arrest, but the fact that she was operating for the organization is not news. She is not the first" and won't be the last wife to do so, the operative, who asked for anonymity for safety reasons, told Insider.
The cartel member said most of the kingpins' wives are in charge of the "complex" tasks, such as money laundering, coordinating operations, and communications with other cartel members, authorities, or lawyers.
Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a security expert and author of "Los Zetas Inc.," said that while organized crime is a "very patriarchal world," women are leveraging their presence in it.
"The prejudice we have of women, where we think they are weaker, incapable of getting involved in a world like organized crime, is actually playing on their favor," she told Insider.
Correa-Cabrera said women have access to privileged information and to places where men might be limited.
"Emma Coronel could access and move freely from inside and outside prison only because she is El Chapo's wife. She could even attend the trial of her husband while being investigated by US authorities," Correa-Cabrera said.
"Women are still playing a secondary role inside the criminal organizations but [are] definitely growing their presence," Correa-Cabrera added.
The wives of the Chicago-based Flores twins, who have been accused of working with the Sinaloa Cartel to smuggle drugs into the US, appear to reflect that trend.
Pedro and Margarito Flores were sentenced in 2015 to 14 years in prison and were released late last year into witness protection after agreeing to cooperate against Guzman.
Vivianna Lopez, 40, also known as Mia Flores, and Valerie Gaytan, 45, also known as Olivia Flores, were arrested in June on money-laundering charges, which allege they helped clean hundreds of thousands of dollars of their husbands' drug proceeds for more than a decade.
The twins' wives wrote a book called "Cartel Wives," in which they describe what it's like to be married to cartel members and their lives after their husbands' arrests.
"As for the personal side of this story, we want to provide an unfiltered look into why people enter a life of crime," the book's introduction says.
"During 2005 to 2008, our husbands trafficked $2 billion to Mexico, and we would see these houses full of money," Olivia told Insider in a 2017 interview.
"We knew exactly what they were doing. We didn't know details, but we knew what they were doing," Olivia told Vogue in a 2018 interview.
The Sinaloa Cartel operative said the involvement of kingpins' wives could be a double-edged sword, since they have "very sensitive information."
"It's very easy [for] things to go wrong when talking about the wives of the 'patrones.' They are always around, they gather information, and they could be of much help to the organization, but also could be selling that same information to another group or to authorities," the operative said.
The operative declined to comment specifically on the Flores twins and their wives.
This month, both Olivia and Mia pleaded not guilty to money-laundering charges. Both are living under assumed identities because of the dangers posed by their husbands' cooperation, according to their book.
Coronel pleaded guilty to all charges and is scheduled to be sentenced on September 15. She faces up to life in prison.