By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A woman thought to be the daughter of a notorious Mexican drug lord appeared in U.S. federal court in San Diego on Thursday to plead not guilty to charges of trying to illegally enter the United States using fraudulent documents and a fake identity.
Alejandrina Gisselle Guzman-Salazar was detained earlier this month after tried crossing from Tijuana, Mexico, into California on foot using a counterfeit visa and a false name, telling authorities she wanted to give birth to her child in Los Angeles, according to court documents in the case.
A six-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury on Wednesday charged her with criminal fraud and misuse of documents, giving false statements to federal officers and aggravated identity theft.
During a brief hearing on Thursday before a U.S. magistrate, Guzman-Salazar, who was visibly pregnant, entered a not guilty plea to all charges and waived her right to challenge her detention.
Dressed in red jail scrubs with her wavy hair tied in a single braid down her back, Guzman-Salazar said little except to answer affirmatively in Spanish, "si," to procedural questions put to her through a translator during the hearing.
A federal official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the record, has confirmed that Guzman-Salazar is the daughter of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, leader of the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel.
Immigration officials use their discretion in deciding whether to detain and charge those attempting to cross the border using a false name or counterfeit papers. Sometimes offenders are simply refused entry and released into Mexico.
But the federal official told Reuters Guzman-Salazar was detained because "she is related to drug traffickers."
An attorney for Guzman-Salazar, who does not face drug charges in either the United States or Mexico, has said the decision to keep her in custody was likely made because authorities believe her to be the drug kingpin's daughter.
"What the government thought about her lineage was probably a motivating factor in their decision to hold her," attorney Jan Ronis of San Diego told Reuters, although he would not say if his client was related to Joaquin Guzman.
El Chapo, whose nickname means "Shorty" in English, escaped a Mexican prison in a laundry basket in 2001 to become the country's highest-profile trafficker, hauling tons of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin to U.S. markets in trucks, ultralight aircraft and through clandestine tunnels.
Guzman, born in Mexico's rugged western Sinaloa state, also commands groups of assassins battling rival cartels for valuable turf stretching from U.S. borderlands down into Central America.
Included on Forbes list of billionaires since 2009, Guzman has been indicted in the United States on dozens of charges of racketeering and conspiracy to import narcotics.
Washington has a $5 million reward for the capture of El Chapo, who began his rise to power under Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, the so-called "Godfather" of Mexican trafficking, who pioneered cocaine smuggling routes into the United States.
In recent months, U.S. and Mexican agents have been closing in on Guzman, and have arrested traffickers close to him and seized his assets on both sides of the border.
Among those targeted by the U.S. Treasury Department this year was Maria Alejandrina Hernandez Salazar, reported to be Guzman-Salazar's mother.
Guzman's third or fourth wife, Emma Coronel, made headlines last year when she traveled to Los Angeles to give birth to twins. Analysts say Guzman-Salazar holds out the tantalizing possibility of fresh leads in the hunt for El Chapo.
(Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Todd Eastham)