The daughter of one of the world’s most sought-after drug lords has been charged with trying to enter the United States on someone else passport, U.S. officials said Monday.
Alejandrina Gisselle Guzman Salazar, 31, was arrested Friday at San Diego’s San Ysidro port of entry and charged with fraud and misuse of visas, permits and other documents.
Two U.S. officials said Monday that she told authorities her father was Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the arrest publicly.
A woman under that name was charged Monday in federal court in San Diego. Kelly Thornton, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said she could not confirm that the woman charged was Guzman’s daughter.
Guzman Salazar hired Jan Ronis, whose roster of clients with links to organized crime has included Benjamin Arellano Felix, the fallen leader of the eponymous drug cartel that was one of Mexico’s most powerful. Ronis said he was just learning about the case and declined to comment on the charges.
The complaint said Guzman Salazar attempted to enter the country on foot, presenting a non-immigrant visa contained in a Mexican passport. She told authorities that she intended to go to Los Angeles to give birth to her child. Guzman Salazar told authorities that she was pregnant, according to the U.S. officials.
The significance of the arrest will depend on what Guzman Salazar can tell authorities about her father, like whether she can provide phone numbers, said David Shirk, director of the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute.
“We don’t know exactly what she knows,” said Shirk. “It may just be an interesting factoid in the war on drugs or it could be a vital clue for law enforcement … This is the kind of random development that could potentially shift the tides.”
The Los Angeles Times reported last year that Guzman’s wife – former beauty queen Emma Coronel – traveled to Southern California and gave birth to twin girls at Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, north of Los Angeles. The newspaper said Coronel, then 22, holds U.S. citizenship, which entitles her to travel freely to the U.S. and to use its hospitals.
“You kind of surmise that there’s some family connection back to Southern California,” Eric Olson, associate director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute said of the daughter’s arrest.
The arrest and investigation of Guzman Salazar were handled by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the nation’s largest border crossing in San Diego. A bail hearing was scheduled Oct. 25.
The Sinaloa cartel, named after the Pacific coast state of the same name, controls trafficking along much of the U.S. border with Mexico, particularly in Western states.
Authorities in the U.S. and Mexico have said they believe Guzman has children with several partners, though it’s not clear how many. The U.S. Treasury Department has put sanctions on sons Ivan Archivaldo “El Chapito” Guzman Salazar, 31, and Ovidio Guzman Lopez, 22.
Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar, 26, was indicted with his father on multiple drug trafficking charges in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in August 2009.
Last month, the U.S. Treasury Department said it was placing financial sanctions on Guzman’s wife, Griselda Lopez Perez. The department said at the time that she “plays a key role” in the Sinaloa cartel.
Lopez Perez was the second wife of Guzman designated under the U.S. Kingpin Act, which bars U.S. citizens from making business transactions with that person and allows authorities to freeze their assets in the United States.
In June, the department imposed sanctions on Maria Alejandrina Hernandez Salazar, who it also described a wife of Guzman.