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It was around 4 in the morning on February 17, 2014, when Lucero Sanchez was jolted awake by shouting and a loud thumping noise. She had been sleeping next to her lover, Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera. A team of DEA agents and Mexican marines was hammering on the front door of their safe house with a battering ram.
Moments later, Sanchez heard Chapo’s personal secretary, a man she knew only by the name Condor, yell outside their bedroom: “ Tío, tío — open up! They’re on us!”
The next few minutes were frantic. Chapo was completely naked, but he didn’t have time to bother with clothes. As the marines struggled to break down the reinforced steel door, he and Condor ducked into the bathroom. “Love, love — come in here,” Chapo beckoned.
When she entered the bathroom, Sanchez could hardly believe her eyes. Hydraulic pistons had lifted up the bathtub, revealing the entrance to a hidden tunnel. The men hurried down a wooden ladder, and Chapo called for her to follow. She was terrified but did as he ordered.
“I heard him say to Condor, ‘Close up the tub,’ and he closed it and we were in complete darkness,” Sanchez recalled. “For me, it was horrible. I’d never been in a place like that. It was very humid and filled with mud.”
The bathtub tunnel connected to the sewer system in the city of Culiacán, Chapo’s stronghold in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. For the next hour, Chapo — still naked — led Sanchez, Condor, and a maid who was with them at the house on a mad dash through the filthy subterranean passageways. They emerged shaken but unscathed at a drainage canal, where one of Chapo’s men came to get them. They had escaped, at least for the time being.
Sanchez recounted her remarkable tale on Thursday, when she was called to testify against Chapo during his trial at the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. Not only did her stunning testimony reveal new details about Chapo’s infamous escape through the bathtub tunnel, it likely shattered any remaining hope he had of winning an acquittal.
Cover: A DEA agent in one of Chapo's escape tunnels.