Drug kingpin El Chapo spied on his wife and mistress

FBI agents read the incriminating texts drug lord El Chapo sent to his wife Emma Coronel Aispuro.
FBI agents read the incriminating texts drug lord El Chapo sent to his wife Emma Coronel Aispuro. PHOTOS: REUTERS

NEW YORK • In the past few months, the 18 jurors at the drug conspiracy trial of Joaquin Guzman Loera, the Mexican kingpin known as El Chapo who is accused of running the world's biggest drug cartel, have been inundated with evidence exposing the innermost secrets of his narco-empire.

But last week, the panel got a riveting and unexpected look at something more revealing: Dozens of text messages Guzman sent to his wife and mistress. The private messages - obtained by the FBI with the help of an info-tech expert who worked for him - painted an astonishing portrait of the crime lord, not only as a serial philanderer but also as a man who, mixing sex and business, relied on the women in his life to help him conduct daily operations.

In one set of messages, Guzman and his wife Emma Coronel Aispuro cooed together over their twin baby daughters and then, in a flash, discussed whether his soldiers had been slaughtered in a gunfight. As page after page of these intimate notes - one describing how Coronel's enchiladas had made the kingpin fall in love with her - were displayed to the Brooklyn jury, Coronel sat in the room, stoic and silent, wearing a pair of black designer glasses.

A frequent presence at the trial, she displayed no emotion when an FBI agent read aloud a message in which Guzman told her about escaping a police raid at one of his safe houses by scrambling out the back. ("Oh love, that's horrible," she answered.)

There was also no response when the agent read a follow-up message in which Guzman asked her to send him moustache dye and to replace the underwear, shampoo and aftershave lotion he had left behind. The only thing more remarkable than the messages was how the FBI got hold of them.

FBI agent Stephen Marston told jurors the dramatic story of how the United States authorities launched a clandestine operation in 2010 to recruit Guzman's IT expert Christian Rodriguez to become an informant, go undercover and then spy on him.

Rodriguez had built Guzman and his allies an encrypted communication network, but then helped the bureau crack it. Mr Marston recounted that, at Guzman's request, Rodriguez had also installed spyware called FlexiSPY on Coronel's phone as well as on a phone Guzman had given to his mistress, Agustina Cabanillas Acosta.

Over the next several months, Rodriguez said he installed recording software in Guzman's network that automatically sent copies of the drug kingpin's calls to the FBI each day at midnight.

After the IT specialist told the FBI about the spyware, agents obtained a search warrant for the messages, effectively using Guzman's lust and paranoia against him. Not even the Mafia boss John Gotti, whom the FBI secretly recorded for hours, had to endure the ordeal of his marital - and extramarital - missives being shown to the world.

In one of Guzman's messages, he ordered his wife to hide his weapons when he believed the police were at their door. In another, he joked about one of their infant daughters in a way that only a drug trafficker could. "Our Kiki is fearless," he wrote. "I'm going to give her an AK-47 so she can hang out with me."

 
 
 
 

The messages also showed how deeply Guzman's romantic partners were entangled in his work. "How are the sales going?" he wrote to Acosta in 2012. "Oh, like busy bees," she responded. "Non-stop, my love."

But Acosta (who, according to a photo, bore an uncanny resemblance to Guzman's wife) also appeared to be profoundly suspicious of the crime lord. Her own messages showed that she was all but certain Guzman was spying on her - as, of course, he was. She even complained about it to her friends.

In one message, she told a friend that she did not trust the BlackBerrys Guzman had given her because, as she put it, "the bastard can locate them". In another message, she seemed proud to have figured out her lover was a snoop. "I'm way smarter than him," she wrote.

After scores of messages were shown in court, Rodriguez was called to the witness stand. Baby-faced and wearing a blue suit, he told jurors that Guzman ultimately had him install the spyware on 50 different phones and was apparently obsessed with it.

Almost every day, Rodriguez said, the kingpin called him with questions about the software, which was linked to a computer where Guzman could view reports on the text messages and GPS locations generated by what he liked to call his "special phones".

Eventually, the reports became so voluminous, Rodriguez said, Guzman assigned one of his other technicians to read them and give him daily summaries.

At one point, Rodriguez told jurors, Guzman asked him to install a feature on the phones that allowed him to remotely - and secretly - activate their microphones. Then Guzman would play a little game, he said. He would call people who had the "special" phones and chat with them for a while then hang up, activate the microphone and listen to what they said about him.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 13, 2019, with the headline 'Drug kingpin El Chapo spied on his wife and mistress'. Print Edition | Subscribe