SAN DIEGO (CN) – A former Mexican legislator – a girlfriend of Sinaloa drug cartel boss El Chapo Guzman – was charged in federal court Thursday with conspiracy to distribute more than 5 kilos of cocaine.
Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez Lopez was arrested Wednesday at the Otay Mesa Cross Border Xpress port of entry, a pedestrian sky bridge that connects the Tijuana airport to the south San Diego community of Otay Mesa. Her U.S. visa had been canceled due to an investigation of her alleged ties to the Sinaloa drug cartel.
Sanchez had been under investigation by a Homeland Security team in Nogales, Arizona since at least January 2013, when agents intercepted messages about money laundering alleged to have been sent by Sanchez to Guzman and his associates, according to the 9-page indictment.
Sanchez allegedly communicated with members of the cartel – receiving direct orders for transferring drug money from Guzman himself – using multiple aliases, including “Piedra,” “Tere” and “Maico.” Sanchez’s messages to Guzman, including a conversation about delivering $100,000, were intercepted by wiretaps ordered by the federal government over the course of four years, according to the indictment.
Sanchez had close ties to Guzman and his sons, according to the indictment, which states that she told a confidential informant “that she was with Guzman Loera when he escaped through a tunnel with [sic] Mexican authorities raided his house on February 17, 2014.”
The indictment adds: “The CI [cooperating individual] also related that ‘Tere’ had told him that she escaped the raid and told Guzman Loera to go to Cosalá, Sinaloa with her because she worked there as a ‘deputy’ (diputada). Sanchez Lopez is known to be a former government official in Sinaloa.”
Sanchez was a representative in the Sinaloa state government, analogous to a member of a state House in the United States. According to Mexican and U.S. news reports, she became pregnant with El Chapo’s child in the maximum security prison from which El Chapo escaped in 2015 — his second such prison escape. Guzman, who has been extradited to the United States, is known as “the lord of the tunnels.” He is in custody in New York awaiting trial.
Sanchez appeared nervous when led into U.S. District Magistrate Judge Barbara Major’s courtroom Thursday afternoon. Clad in a canary yellow jumpsuit, her face was constantly twitching, with her eyes appearing half-lidded. Later in the hearing she became visibly upset, wiping away tears.
She was arraigned on a single charge of conspiracy to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine. She did not enter a plea, however, after attorneys and the judge had a somewhat unusual exchange over a sworn financial statement she signed which stated she did not have enough money to hire an attorney.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Mellor objected to Major’s appointing her a public defender, citing charging documents that show Sanchez has “access to hundreds of thousands of thousands of dollars, perhaps more.”
Major said she was “very concerned” about the financial affidavit Sanchez signed and asked her repeatedly if she told the truth in the document.
Sanchez said through an interpreter that she was telling the truth. Major told the attorneys she would require Sanchez to sign the document in Spanish because she wanted it “to be very clear.”
Sanchez is to appear in court June 29 for a hearing on whether she should be appointed a public defender or retain her own attorney. She is being held without bail, as prosecutors told the judge she is a significant flight risk.