NEW YORK (AP) — Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez Lopez was already trapped in an impossible extramarital relationship with Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman when she found herself in an even crazier bind — fleeing with Guzman and others from authorities through an underground tunnel, her outlaw love interest in the buff.
Guzman "was naked," Sanchez said Thursday. "He took off running. He left us behind."
The account of the mad dash in 2014 and Sanchez's tortured romance with Guzman while he was on the run came at a U.S. drug trafficking trial that's detailed his rise and fall as a near-mythical cartel boss. His lawyers say the allegations have been fabricated by cooperators seeking leniency in their own cases.
Sanchez, 29, a former local politician from Guzman's home state of Sinaloa, took the witness stand in jail smocks after pleading guilty earlier this year to drug charges following her arrest last year. She told her tale with Guzman's wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, sitting expressionless in the gallery.
The petite and soft-spoken witness said she met Guzman in 2010 and by 2011 was visiting him at his hideouts in Cabo San Lucas and elsewhere, and texting with him on cell phones protected by encryption he gave her. Over time, they began mixing business with pleasure that caused her distress, she said.
"Until this day, I'm confused because I thought we were in a romantic relationship," she said toward the start of her testimony before she began sobbing and needed a break to compose herself. Later, she said of Guzman, "Sometimes I loved him and sometimes I didn't."
The trouble began when Guzman drafted Sanchez to purchase marijuana for him, with instructions to ready 400 kilograms (882 pounds) for each plane used to transport it from the countryside. Prosecutors showed the jury intercepted texts where the pair called each "love" as they plotted how best to move drugs, though some of Guzman's messages sounded more menacing.
Sanchez said she would sometimes sweet talk Guzman "so he didn't think I would rat him out. . I thought he could hurt me."
The romance began to sour toward the end of 2012 but "seemed like it would never end," Sanchez said, and when he invited her to one of the safe houses in the Sinaloa city of Culiacan in 2014, she automatically accepted.
At the time, a team of Mexican marines were hunting for Guzman, forcing him to leave the safehouse and move to another, she said. She went along and was spending the night with him when there was a commotion outside as one of his assistants blurted, "They're on us."
She testified that Guzman led her into a bathroom, where the bathtub was lifted with hydraulics to expose a fortified trap door leading to a dark, damp sewage tunnel. It led to a more remote part of the city, where they made their escape, she said.
She was asked how long she was in the tunnel. "Long enough to be traumatized," she said, before her testimony ended for the day.
Shortly after the two apparently parted ways, Guzman was captured at a hotel in the resort town of Mazatlan where he had met up with his wife and young twin daughters. Earlier Thursday, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent who was there testified how the marines were in disbelief that they had bagged Mexico's most wanted, who would still end up escaping a Mexican jail in 2016 before being recaptured for good.
"Is it him? Is it him?" DEA agent Victor Vazquez said the soldiers kept asking him. He testified he then looked at Guzman with wonder and said, "It's you."