BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – Short of the drug kingpin himself, there are not many people who could testify to how Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped authorities through the tunnels he famously used to move drugs. But over two days on a New York witness stand, 29-year-old Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez did just that.
“For me, it was horrible, because I had never been in a place like that,” Sanchez, a mistress and alleged partner-in-crime of Guzman, said Thursday of the humid, muddy, narrow tunnel, built beneath a home in Culiacan where the couple had been hiding out in 2014.
Testifying against the accused Sinaloa cartel leader who faces 17 counts of conspiracy, drug trafficking and money laundering, Sanchez told a Brooklyn jury that Guzman led her to the tunnel on Feb. 17 after Mexican marines stormed the property.
It was a shout from Guzman’s secretary that awoke the couple, she recalled: “Tio, Tio, open up, they’re on us!”
She said Guzman then, stark naked, ushered her into the bathroom — “Love, come here!” — where the tub was propped up and “hollow” underneath.
She’d had no idea the tunnel was there, Sanchez told the jury.
Along with the secretary and a maid, Sanchez testified that she and Guzman climbed down wooden steps into darkness.
After Guzman and the secretary managed to force open a steel door, Sanchez said, “we took off running.”
“He ran off first,” she said of Guzman. “He left us behind.”
Sanchez recalled how, for what must have been at least an hour, she used her hands to feel her way through the tunnel — “enough to traumatize me.”
To date, Sanchez is the only female cooperating witness to take the stand against Guzman. Painting herself as a victim acting for love, Sanchez said her affair with Guzman was marked by a skewed power dynamic.
“The relationship had ended, but it seemed like it would never end,” said Sanchez, who was born poor in the mining city of Cosala, Sinaloa, of her 2014 escape with Guzman through the tunnel.
Denying any family ties to drug trafficking, Sanchez said she sold empanadas in the street at age 8. At 16, she had entered into a common-law marriage with a man who was physically abusive. He was later murdered, but Sanchez did not testify about details of his death.
Sanchez was about 20 when she met Guzman, she testified. The relationship started romantically in 2010, but after a year she said she was trafficking marijuana for him. On Guzman’s orders, Sanchez went to several communities in Mexico’s Golden Triangle to buy marijuana from poor farmers and pack it into airplanes. Sanchez said Guzman didn’t pay her for the work, and that she knew nothing about the different kinds of marijuana when she started, but that she longed for his attention.
“I was actually sending him [lower-quality marijuana] packages with seeds because I wanted him to get upset with me so he would ask me to come back,” Sanchez said, “but I did not manage it.”
In her first round of testimony Thursday, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan delayed the start of afternoon proceedings after Sanchez wept on the stand.
Sanchez said she considered herself as a “home wife” at one point, running Guzman’s errands and buying him clothes, shoes, underwear and lotion because he could not leave his house. She said she also helped establish a fake juice company in Mexico City as a straw business to launder money.
In 2014, Sanchez ran for local office in Sinaloa and won “with many votes,” she said. When her relationship with Guzman became public, however, Sanchez was ousted before her term ended. During her time as a legislator, a pregnant Sanchez caused a scandal when she used a fake ID to visit Guzman in the Altiplano prison.
Sanchez has two children; it’s not clear who fathered them or exactly where they are now.
U.S. authorities arrested her in June 2017 as she attempted to cross the Tijuana border into San Diego. She tried to run and was tackled and injured in the scuffle.
Sanchez faces 10 years to life in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute 5 or more kilograms of cocaine. She entered the plea about a month before the start of Guzman’s New York trial.
Guzman’s trial resumed Tuesday with Sanchez on the witness stand. She wrapped up testimony at about midday.