Southwest Side twins who helped turn Chicago into a $1.8 billion cocaine and heroin dealing hub for the Sinaloa cartel then turned on its feared leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman have been sentenced to 14 years each in prison.
Two of the biggest drug dealers ever to be indicted in Chicago, Pedro and Margarito Flores, 33, would normally have faced life sentences for moving what prosecutors called “an almost incomprehensible amount” of cocaine but were rewarded for their extraordinary cooperation with the government.
That cooperation led to more than 50 indictments — including that of “El Chapo” himself, who was the world’s most wanted man until his arrest in Mexico last year — and dealt a harsh blow to the powerful cartel.
Without their cooperation, U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo said he would have given each brother — the worst drug dealers he’d seen in 20 years on the bench — life in prison, “and I would not hesitate.”
He praised their cooperation but noted it was not “perfect,” referring to a 276 kilo drug deal they failed to report to authorities after they had started cooperating. So instead of giving each brother 12 years, Castillo sentenced them to 14 years behind bars.
He pointed out they admitted they trafficked 64,000 kilograms of cocaine during the course of the conspiracy and netted more than $1 billion in profit.
“It is devastating. It is simply horrific,” Castillo said.
Not only did their actions lead to the kidnapping and probable murder of their father, but their brother became a drug addict, the judge noted.
Castillo said nobody should have to suffer the violent loss of a father but noted, “A lot of people in this city have lost family members, sons and fathers because of drugs.”
The judge said the twins have effectively received a life sentence because they and their families will always worry about cartel retribution.
“Every time you start a car you will be wondering ‘Will this car start or will it explode?’” the judge asked.
The 5-foot-4-inch twins, dressed in unmarked olive drab prison uniforms and with their hair cropped “high and tight” in a military style, looked far older than they do in their widely published mugshots.
Though they had risen to the top of a deadly profession, moving at ease in the cartel world, they seemed cowed by the occasion, speaking in quiet, hesitant voices as they each made short speeches to the court.
Margarito Flores, who dabbed his eye with a tissue when prosecutors referred to the murder of his father, parted his hair to the right and nervously tapped his right foot on the floor throughout the hearing.
He told the judge, “I’m ashamed, I’m embarrassed and I’m regretful for the bad decisions I’ve made.
“I put my family in harm’s way and I will never forgive myself.
“I apologize to the American citizens, the people of Chicago and especially to the people I have harmed.”
Pedro Flores mirrored his brother, wearing his otherwise identical hairstyle parted to the left and tapping his left foot throughout the hearing.
“I want to thank the United States government for giving me the chance to cooperate,” he said, adding that he felt it was his “obligation” to help take down the massive drug distribution system he had helped build. “Thank you for the opportunity not to spend the rest of my life in prison.”
Held amid tight security, the sentencing hearing on Tuesday was the first public sighting of the Flores twins in years. As two of the U.S. government’s most significant informants ever, they have been kept in protective custody since turning themselves in in 2008. Even their lawyer’s identity was kept secret.
The risks they took, secretly recording El Chapo in telephone calls and his top lieutenants in face-to-face meetings, were vividly illustrated when their father was kidnapped and almost certainly killed in Mexico as revenge for their cooperation in 2009. A note left on their father’s windshield warned the brothers to “shut up” or they’d be next.
Prosecutors had argued for a lesser sentence than the judge imposed, saying the public’s interest in encouraging such dangerous cooperation meant the brothers should get just 10 years in prison — eight-and-a-half years once time off for good behavior is included.
A lenient sentence would send other criminals the message that ratting out their comrades is a “viable option,” federal prosecutor Michael Ferrara said.
Ferrara pointed out the brothers’ cooperation continued even on Monday when the feds interviewed them for hours about the cartel. He described their cooperation as “historic” and “unprecedented.”
Among their most important contributions were recordings of Guzman, who admitted the existence of a “vast drug conspiracy.”
The twins had begun as low level drug dealers in Little Village but after fleeing U.S. authorities to Mexico in 2004 rose through the ranks of the Latin Kings street gang to become trusted business partners of El Chapo, whose secret mountaintop lair they visited at least twice.
Working with top Sinaloa figures, they set up front businesses in Chicago to distribute cocaine by the ton by truck and train to cities across the the U.S.
But as a deadly cartel war exploded in 2008, they feared for their safety and came to U.S. authorities to cut a deal.
They helped set up dozens of lower level dealers, including many of their own customers, but also secretly recorded El Chapo’s lieutenants, several of who have since been sentenced to prison terms far exceeding that handed to the Flores brothers on Tuesday.
The cooperation also helped the feds “flip” Vicente Zambada-Niebla, the son of “El Chapo’s” number two, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who two years ago secretly pleaded guilty and is still awaiting sentencing.
Between them, the brothers provided wild details of the cartel’s inner workings: how it used submarines and a Boeing 747s to ship cocaine, and how ”El Chapo” in 2008 asked them to provide him with rockets and grenade launchers so that he could attack U.S. or Mexican government buildings in Mexico City, the feds say.
Though Guzman has remained in Mexican custody since his arrest last year and may never be extradited to face U.S. justice, new indictments connected to the case continue to be announced. Several were announced in San Diego earlier this month, and more are expected to be filed in Chicago Tuesday afternoon.
Though they were caught trying to squirrel away millions of dollars of drug money after they “flipped” and agreed to cooperate with the government, the feds took the extremely rare step of allowing them to keep $300,000 to pay for lawyers and security. Those lawyers appeared publicly Tuesday but did not file their appearances in open court out of safety concerns.
During a lengthy speech, Castillo put the brothers’ deeds in the broader context of the city’s and country’s drug problem.
“You had 1,500 to 2,000 kilograms of cocaine per month not only coming into this city which I love, but also into Columbus, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, New York and Vancouver. It is devastating to think about that.”
“I look at the two Flores brothers growing up in Chicago — under other circumstances, they could have been successful without turning to crime.
“There’s a lot of things you are, but stupid is not one of them,” he told the brothers.
“I’m not naive enough to think that the highway has closed down just because you were arrested,” he said.
“Unfortunately the demand for drugs continues in this city. There are not enough treatment programs.”
Castillo added that he had complained “early and often” to the U.S. Attorney’s office over the course of his career that too many low level drug dealers are prosecuted, but that “that is not the case today.”
Referring to his own past as a federal prosecutor, the judge said that he had risked his own life in the fight against drugs, but that “I can think myself back to 1987 and nothing has really changed.
“You can go to the West Side and buy a hit . . . and that is sad.”
But he said he could not think of a single case in which a criminal had “flipped” for the government at the height of their success.
He told the twins that he believed that they have hidden money stashed away for when they are released.
“Everyone in the city thinks you have money . . . everyone,” the judge said, adding that the $300,000 prosecutors allowed the twins to keep was just a small sum.
In arriving at his decision for sentencing, he was swayed, he said, by the need to encourage high-level cooperators in other cases.
“Let the message go out,” he said. “You can cooperate with the government and get a discount, even for behavior as devastating as this was.”
update: Eighth Superseding
* side note I found a mugshot of one of the newly indicted individuals from Illinois.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 27, 2015
Chicago Twins’ Cooperation Against Sinaloa Cartel Yields 14-
Year Prison Terms; New Charges Target Cartel’S Top Echelon
CHICAGO — Twin brothers PEDRO and MARGARITO FLORES, regarded as Chicago’s most significant drug traffickers who rose from street level dealers to the highest echelons of the Mexico-based Sinaloa Cartel and a rival cartel before they began providing unparalleled cooperation to the Drug Enforcement Administration, were each sentenced today to 14 years in federal prison. The sentencing marked the Flores brothers’ first public court appearance since they entered protective federal custody in 2008. Their August 2012 guilty pleas to a narcotics distribution conspiracy were unsealed in November 2014.
Also today, federal law enforcement officials announced the unsealing of an expanded eighth superseding indictment in the case in which the Flores brothers and leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel were initially indicted here in 2009. The eighth superseding indictment and three separate new indictments announced today, add significant new defendants, including two alleged cartel money laundering associates who were arrested in the United States, and extend the government’s efforts in Chicago and elsewhere to dismantle the Sinaloa Cartel under JOAQUIN GUZMAN LOERA, 60, also known as “Chapo,” and ISMAEL ZAMBADA GARCIA, 67, aka “Mayo.”
“The persistent determination of DEA special agents and leadership in Chicago, coupled with the efforts of those in DEA offices worldwide, is having a significant impact on the global operations of the Sinaloa Cartel,” said Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. “This case put an end to the Flores brothers’ Chicago hub for transshipment of cartel narcotics nationwide. Our investigation and prosecution of cartel members is continuing,” Mr. Fardon said.
“The extraordinary work in this investigation continues,” said Dennis A. Wichern, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “Agents, investigators, prosecutors and our worldwide law enforcement partners continue to expand this investigation against members of the Sinaloa Cartel ― working to bring them to justice and in doing so ― helping to make the great city of Chicago a safer place.”
“The extraordinary work in this investigation continues,” said Dennis A. Wichern, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “Agents, investigators, prosecutors and our worldwide law enforcement partners continue to expand this investigation against members of the Sinaloa Cartel ― working to bring them to justice and in doing so ― helping to make the great city of Chicago a safer place.”
James C. Lee, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago, said, “IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to working together with the DEA and the United States Attorney’s Office to fight the war on drugs. IRS CI brings, and will continue to bring, its financial expertise to disrupt and dismantle the Sinaloa Cartel’s drug trafficking organization.”
Flores Brothers Sentencing
In sentencing the 33-year-old Flores brothers, U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo said that but for the Flores brothers’ cooperation, he would have imposed a life sentence, and noted that because of the peril their ongoing cooperation poses to them and their families, they effectively “are going to leave here with a life sentence.” If the City of Chicago had walls, Judge Castillo said, the brothers’ operation “devastated the walls of this city,” adding that their operation “became just a highway of drugs into this city.”
But, Judge Castillo added, “It is never too late to cooperate,” which is what earned the Flores brothers a significant discount in their sentences.
Judge Castillo ordered the Flores brothers to forfeit more than $3.66 million that was seized from them and a sport utility vehicle. In addition, more than $400,000 worth of assorted jewelry, several luxury automobiles, smaller amounts of cash, and electronics equipment were seized and forfeited in administrative proceedings by the DEA. The brothers left behind millions of dollars in additional assets in Mexico after they began cooperating.
The judge also placed each of the brothers on court supervision for five years when they are released from prison after serving at least 85 percent of their sentences.
Between 2005 and 2008, the Flores brothers and their crew operated a Chicago-based wholesale distribution cell for the Sinaloa Cartel and a rival drug trafficking organization controlled by Arturo Beltran Leyva, receiving on average 1,500 to 2,000 kilograms of cocaine per month. Approximately half of this cocaine was distributed to the Flores’ customers in the Chicago area, while the other half was distributed to customers in Columbus, Cincinnati, Detroit, Milwaukee, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Vancouver, among other cities. In total, the brothers admitted to facilitating the transfer of approximately $1.8 billion of drug proceeds from the United States to Mexico, primarily through bulk cash smuggling.
At great personal risk to themselves and their families, the Flores brothers began cooperating with the government in October 2008 and recorded conversations, including two directly with Chapo Guzman. Their cooperation resulted in indictments against leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel and the Beltran Leyva organization, as well as the complete dismantling of the brothers’ own Chicago-based criminal enterprise. In late 2008 alone, their cooperation facilitated approximately a dozen seizures in the Chicago area totaling hundreds of kilograms of cocaine and heroin and more than $15 million in cash, as well as the seizure of more than 1,600 kilograms of cocaine in the Los Angeles area that was bound for Chicago.
Further cooperation by the Flores brothers and members of their dismantled crew resulted in the convictions of more than a dozen of their high-level customers who received on average 50 to 100 kilos of cocaine per month. “While not as high-profile as the cartel figures, the successful prosecution of these defendants made a very real difference in combating the scourge of drug trafficking that fuels so much violence and the destruction of communities in Chicago,” prosecutors said in recommending a sentence at or near the low end of the agreed 10- to 16-year sentencing range.
“The Flores brothers (and their families) will live the rest of their lives in danger of being killed in retribution,” prosecutors stated in a sentencing memo. “The barbarism of the cartels is legend, with a special place reserved for those who cooperate.” In 2009, the brothers’ father was kidnapped and presumed killed when he reentered Mexico despite the U.S. government warning him not to do so.
The Primary ― Eighth Superseding ― Indictment
The eighth superseding indictment unsealed today charges a total of nine defendants, including Chapo Guzman, Mayo Zambada, and Guzman’s son, JESUS ALFREDO GUZMAN SALAZAR, 31, aka “Alfredillo” and “JAGS,” each of whom was among the initial group of co-defendants in the original indictment in 2009. Mayo Zambada and Guzman Salazar are fugitives, while Chapo Guzman remains in Mexican custody following his arrest last February.
Co-defendant, JESUS RAUL BELTRAN LEON, 31, aka “Trevol” and “Chuy Raul,” was arrested in Mexico this past November and remains in Mexican custody. The remaining co-defendants, all fugitives, are: HERIBERTO ZAZUETA GODOY, 54, aka “Capi Beto;” VICTOR MANUEL FELIX BELTRAN, 27, aka, “Lic Vicc;” HECTOR MIGUEL VALENCIA ORTEGA, 33, aka “MV;” JORGE MARIO VALENZUELA VERDUGO, 32, aka “Choclos;” and GUADALUPE FERNANDEZ VALENCIA, 54, aka “Don Julio” and “Julia.”
This indictment alleges that all nine defendants conspired between May 2005 and December 2014, when the indictment was returned under seal, to import and distribute narcotics and to commit money laundering. They allegedly conspired to smuggle large quantities of cocaine from Central and South America, as well as heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana from Mexico to the United States and through Chicago for distribution nationwide. The indictment seeks forfeiture of $2 billion.
The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control today announced the designation of Felix Beltran, who is Guzman Salazar’s brother-in-law, pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, freezing all of his assets in the U.S. or in the control of U.S. persons, and generally prohibiting any U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with him. A second designation was announced today against Alfonso Limon Sanchez, an alleged Sinaloa Cartel associate under federal indictment with Mayo Zambada and others in San Diego. Other alleged cartel leaders, including Chicago defendants Chapo Guzman, Mayo Zambada, Guzman Salazar, and Zazueta Godoy, were previously designated drug kingpins.
Charges brought in earlier versions of this primary indictment remain pending against three additional co-defendants: FELIPE CABRERA SARABIA, 44, who is in custody in Mexico; GERMAN OLIVARES, age unknown and a fugitive; and EDGAR MANUEL VALENCIA ORTEGA, 27, aka “Fox,” and Hector Miguel Valencia Ortega’s brother, who was arrested last year in the United States and is in federal custody in Chicago. His next court date is Feb. 19 for a status hearing.
In addition to the Flores brothers, ALFREDO VASQUEZ HERNANDEZ, 59, pleaded guilty and was sentenced last November to 22 years in prison. Two other co-defendants, Mayo Zambada’s son, VICENTE ZAMBADA NIEBLA, 39, and TOMAS AREVALO RENTERIA, 45, have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing in Chicago. Altogether, 18 defendants have been charged in the primary case in Chicago.
Three New Indictments
Those 18 are among a total of 62 defendants, most of whom have been convicted and sentenced, who were indicted in nearly two dozen related cases in Chicago since 2009. Two new defendants, ALVARO ANGUIANO HERNANDEZ, 38, aka “Panda,” and JORGE MARTIN TORRES, 38, were arrested separately in the U.S. in November and are facing separate indictments here alleging they were high-level money laundering associates of the Sinaloa Cartel and participated in money laundering conspiracies. Anguiano Hernandez’s indictment seeks forfeiture of $950,000.
Torres allegedly conspired to launder in excess of $300,000 of drug proceeds from Mexico to the United States to purchase, refurbish, and transfer from Ohio to Mexico, a 1982 Cessna Turbo 210 to promote the cartel’s alleged narcotics conspiracy. His indictment seeks forfeiture of $1 million.
A third separate indictment announced today charges VENANCIO COVARRUBIAS, 26, aka “Benny,” of Elgin, who was arrested last October, with being a high-level cartel customer in the Chicago area. In September 2013, law enforcement, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in Laredo, Tex., seized 159 kilograms of cocaine that was allegedly destined for a warehouse in Elgin leased by Covarrubias. The cocaine, wrapped in 118 brick-shaped packages, was hidden in a tractor-trailer containing a shipment of fresh tomatoes from a fictitious Mexican business called Tadeo Produce. The charges allege that during the prior year, Covarrubias wire transferred drug proceeds to Tadeo Produce while receiving narcotics disguised as tomato shipments. His indictment seeks forfeiture of $2.89 million.
mugshot of 2010 VENANCIO COVARRUBIAS, 26, aka “Benny,” of Elgin
The money laundering conspiracy charges against Anguiano Hernandez, Torres and Covarrubias carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a $500,000 fine, or an alternate fine totaling twice the amount of the funds involved in illegal activity. The narcotics importation and distribution conspiracy charges against Covarrubias and each defendant in the primary indictment carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years to a maximum of life in prison and a $10 million fine. If convicted, the court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines. The defendants against whom charges are pending are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Total Seizures Since 2008
Overall, the Chicago-based investigation of the Sinaloa Cartel has resulted in seizures of approximately $30.8 million, approximately 11 tons of cocaine, 265 kilograms of methamphetamine, and 78 kilograms of heroin. Law Enforcement in Chicago has worked closely with federal agents and prosecutors in San Diego to target the senior leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel. This partnership yielded the prosecutions here as well as 14 indictments announced this month in San Diego against 60 alleged Sinaloa leaders, lieutenants, and associates, including Mayo Zambada, two of his four sons, and another of Chapo Guzman’s sons.
The investigation in Chicago has been led by the DEA, joined by the IRS Criminal Investigation Division and the Chicago Police Department. Also assisting were DEA offices worldwide, including in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Mexico City, and its El Paso Intelligence Center; the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF); the Chicago High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force, the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in San Diego, Springfield, Ill., and Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Police Department; the Chicago and Peoria offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Chicago office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Marshals Service; the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service; the Cook County Sheriff’s Department; suburban police departments in Calumet City, Evergreen Park, Oak Park, and Palos Heights; and the Beverly Hills, Calif., Police Department. The investigation was assisted by agents and analysts of the Justice Department Criminal Division’s Special Operations Division (SOD), and attorneys from the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, and Office of International Affairs.
The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael J. Ferrara, Erika Csicsila, Naana Frimpong, Georgia Alexakis, Kathryn Malizia, and Thomas D. Shakeshaft.
"Chapo" Guzman Loera Indictment
Contact: Randall Samborn, Assistant US Attorney, Public Information Officer
Direct: (312) 353-5318, Cell: (312) 613-6700
"Great minds have purpose, others have wishes" - Washington Irvin
This one site sheds light on a few things and raises some good questions
Interesting read from: http://www.talkleft.com/story/2015/1/19/22279/0548/crimenews/The-Not-So-New-Sinaloa-Indictments
Since Ismael Zambada-Garcia has pending indictments in New York, the District of Columbia, Texas and Illinois, which have been widely publicized for years, charging him in yet another district hardly seems very newsworthy – unless he’s been captured or his arrest is imminent, which I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere.
So the cases are only news to the public, as opposed to being newly filed. I'm curious about why the announcement was made now, and why the U.S. Attorney in San Diego didn't mention the filing of a related case that really is new. While this new case was filed in Chicago, rather than San Diego, it provides a roadmap to explaining the charges against Ivan, the airplane and the vehicles. Which in turn makes me curious as to why this new case wasn't filed in San Diego.
Secondary questions I have are why Ivan Guzman-Salazar was not charged in the initial Zambada Indictment in March, 2014, but added to the Superseding Indictment in July, just four months later. What did the Government know in July that it didn’t know in March? And what prompted the Government to add the 1982 Cessna Turbo 210, two Lamborghinis, a Mercedes and a Nissan to the July Indictment? Did the DEA make a major drug bust in July and grab the plane and cars, along with information connecting them to Ivan?
Not quite. The new Chicago case, which involves a money laundering charge against Jorge Martin Torres, provides a lot of information. It also raises the question of why Ivan, and not Alfredo Guzman-Salazar, El Chapo's other son, was charged in San Diego. (Alfredo is charged in Chicago, along with El Chapo and Zambada.)
Here are the details: On October 28, 2014, Jorge Martin Torres and his wife flew from Guadalajara, Mexico to San Antonio, TX intending to visit the Alamo and Sea World. He never made it to either, because he was arrested on a money laundering Complaint filed three days earlier in Chicago. The basis for the charge is the Government’s allegation that Torres arranged for Ivan and his brother Alfredo to purchase expensive cars, and a 1982 Cessna Turbo 210 single engine plane located in Ohio. This is the same plane named in the San Diego Indictment (U.S. tail number N1218U, bearing Serial #21064675, and now Mexico tail number XB-NKY.) The plane was exported to Mexico for the brothers. The Government alleges the plane was intended to be used to transport drugs and drug proceeds, and to secretly fly the brothers around so they could evade capture.
The Chicago case docket for Jorge Martin Torres includes a 21 page affidavit to the money laundering complaint. (Case No. 14-cr-00623, Document #1, dated 10/24/14 and filed on 10/25/14). It's about how Torres allegedly helped the Guzman brothers buy the plane (with some details about the cars as well.)
A reporter with the San Antonio Express News attended Torres’ detention hearing, at which two DEA agents testified, and reported details of their testimony. They testified that Torres negotiated and completed the purchase of the Cessna and vehicles on behalf of Ivan Arichibaldo Guzman-Salazar and his brother Jesus Alfredo Guzman-Salazar. While the 21 page affidavit attached to the Complaint names Torres and the plane's seller and broker, it refers to four other individuals, two of whom were the ultimate purchasers of the plane and vehicles, only as Individuals A, B, C and D. With the DEA agent's testimony, it's now clear that Individuals A and B are the Guzman brothers.
A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent testified that the case has been built in Chicago by wiretaps authorizing agents to intercept emails and phone calls of cartel members or associates and information from former high-ranking members of the cartel now cooperating with the feds. ..... San Antonio-based DEA agent Patrick Curran said, evidence was recovered during that investigation showing a list of several exotic cars believed to have been acquired with help from Torres for the Guzmán brothers. “There were letters (listing) luxury, high end vehicles, their values and who is responsible for each vehicle,” Curran testified. “The letters indicate Lamborghinis, Maseratis, several BMWs, Porsches, Mercedes.”
The Affidavit describes Individual C as an "as yet unidentified" lieutenant of Individual B.
Based on this judicially authorized interception, an email account hereafter, "Subject Account 1" was identified as an email address used by Individual C, a currently unidentified lieutenant to Individual A and Individual B....In particular, Individual A self-identified Subject Email Account 1 as his/her email in judicially authorized intercepts. In or about May 2013, Subject Email Account 1 was used to facilitate the laundering of more than $100,000 of drug proceeds to purchase a luxury vehicle in the United States.
The affidavit also says the plane transaction went through Torres and the "Subject Account 1" email account. It also describes Individual D as a personal pilot for Individual B.
Based on the content of electronic communications intercepted pursuant to an Order entered by Chief Judge Ruben Castillo on or about August 15, 2013, Individual D has been identified as a personal pilot to Individual B, responsible for flying Individual B and his coconspirators between clandestine airstrips in Mexico. As explained above, due to his/her status as a Sinaloa Cartel leader, Individual B cannot travel through traditional, legitimate means, so instead travels using private aircraft from hidden airstrips in an effort to avoid detection by law enforcement. This travel is required to facilitate Individual B's leadership functions within the Cartel and further its criminal activities.
(Since Ivan was not indicted until July, 2014, and the plane transaction and transfer were completed before July, it would seem that Alfredo is Individual B, since he was the only one who could be considered a fugitive at the time of the plane transaction. But that's not a given, since elsewhere in the Affidavit it refers to both brothers as fugitives.)
While the Affidavit says in multiple places that Torres communicated with Individuals A and B, according to the reporter who attended the hearing, DEA agent Curran testified Torres only communicated with the brothers through Individual C:
Curran, however, acknowledged that there appears to be no direct email contact from the Guzmán brothers to Torres. Instead, they appear to have gone through a cartel lieutenant that has not yet been identified, according to Curran and court records.
In any event, Mr. Torres was denied bond and transferred to Chicago to face the money laundering charge. An Indictment was returned charging him with money laundering (along with Individuals A, B, C and D) and seeking the forfeiture of $1 million. (Case: 14-cr-00623 Document # 9, 11/20/14). Nothing much has happened since then. There's no indication he's going to plead or cooperate.
What’s interesting about the plane purchase and export from a money laundering standpoint is that Torres didn’t try and hide the payments – he used his real name for the wire transfers, and he apparently never communicated directly with Ivan or Alfredo. He appears to have a legitimate construction business in Guadalajara. One of its projects involved an airport. According to the Affidavit and confirmed by public records the plane was registered to AVIATION PARTS & SERVICES CO in El Paso, which brokered the deal between Torres and the seller or his agent, Lane Aviation in Columbus, Ohio. Both are legitimate companies still in business, and there's no indication either is suspected of committing an offense. Publicly available flight tracking records show the plane was in Ohio, and flew to El Paso in February, 2013, within days of the final payments wired by Torres. The Affidavit says Torres found the plane through an ad. Here's an ad for the plane I found from October, 2012.
According to the Affidavit for the Complaint, the brothers agreed to buy the plane in December, 2012, and the payments for the purchase were made by wire transfer through Torres between early January and early February, 2013. Additional payments were made to Aviation Parts and Services for repairs, customization and the cost of exporting it to Mexico through May, 2013. Putting the allegations together with public documents, here's the chronology.
Here's the registration showing Aviation Parts and Services as the registered owner until February, 2013. Torres wired the last of several payments for the plane on Feb. 6. An FAA notice shows on Feb. 13, 2013 Aviation Parts & Services de-registered the plane and noted it would be exported to Mexico. During March, April and the beginning of May, additional repair and customization were done on the plane by Aviation Parts and Services. On May 31, Aviation Parts and Services submitted an application to export the plane to Mexico. The plane was registered in Mexico and the new tail number was added. On June 11, 2013, Individual D, the pilot, sent photos of the plane with the new tail number to the email account for Individuals A and B (used by Individual C) to show them the plane had been transferred.
The Government’s theory for the money laundering charge is that Ivan and Alfredo intended to use the plane to transport drugs or drug proceeds and to fly around secretly since they knew either one or both of them were wanted as fugitives. It also says the proceeds used to buy the plane were drug proceeds and that by acquiring the plane for them, Torres conspired with them to further their drug business. If Torres never communicated with them directly, and only went through Individual C, their lieutenant, what evidence does the Government have he knew the brothers' intended purpose for the plane or that the funds used were drug proceeds?
The search warrant results for Subject Account 1 establish that, beginning no later than December 1, 2012, TORRES, Individuals A, B, and C, and others conspired with one another to launder in excess of $300,000 of drug proceeds from Mexico to the United States to purchase, refurbish, and transfer from Ohio to Mexico, a 1982 Cessna Turbo 210 tail number N1218U (the "Subject Airplane") in order to promote the underlying narcotics conspiracy.
Does it have emails and texts between Torres and the unnamed lieutenant in which they discuss the illegal source of the purchase funds or the intended use of the plane? Or do they just have emails and texts showing that Torres knew the purchasers were sons of El Chapo? If the latter, is that enough? (Surely the family must have some legitimately owned businesses and sources of funds.) Are they also going to hit him with sanctions for doing business in the U.S. with persons on the designated OFAC list? Since they are asking for a $1 million forfeiture from him, and the plane and cars don't amount to that much, there must be something else.
It's also somewhat curious that the Government says in the October, 2014 Torres affidavit that it doesn't know Individual C's identity. How could they intercept the brothers'communications from November, 2012 on and not know the names and functions of their lieutenants, especially one close enough to be entrusted with managing one of the brother's personal email accounts for an extended period of time? How do they know Individual C is the only person who communicated through the email account?
What's fairly obvious from this Complaint is that Torres' arrest was no coincidence. Prosecutors filed the complaint against Torres on October 25, using an affidavit signed by the DEA on October 24, and when Torres showed up in San Antonio on October 28, agents were waiting to arrest him. It seems they proceeded from interception orders for the brothers to orders allowing them to intercept Torres' email account or his phone, and learned he would be going to San Antonio. They quickly filed the Information in Chicago -- no time to wait for the grand jury -- got an arrest warrant, alerted the DEA in San Antonio, and asked them to arrest Torres.
That's the history of the Torres case, but it doesn't explain why Chicago, rather than San Diego, filed the criminal case against him. Especially when months earlier in July, San Diego had indicted Ivan and added the plane and vehicles to its existing Indictment against the Zambadas. And especially since the the Torres affidavit makes it clear that Torres had no connection to Illinois.
Although no events in this Affidavit are alleged to have occurred in this District, venue remains proper in the Northern District of Illinois in that the money laundering events in furtherance of the same conspiracy in which TORRES is a member were reasonably foreseeable to TORRES.
After citing two confidential sources, CS-1 and CS-2, who appear to be the Flores twins, for corroboration that the brothers used small planes to further their illegal drug business, the Affidavit says:
Based on the seizure of tons of cocaine and marijuana, as well as the seizure of substantial quantities of heroin and methamphetamine, including multiple seizures in the Northern District of Illinois, the seizure of millions of dollars of drug proceeds, including the February 13, 2014 seizure of approximately $675,851 in the Northern District of Illinois from a money laundering associate of Individuals A, B, and D, judicially authorized intercepts, and information from reliable confidential sources and defendants regarding drug trafficking and money laundering activities in the Northern District of Illinois, the cell of the Cartel operated by Individuals A and B has substantial ties to this District. The money laundering events described herein were taken in furtherance of the same drug trafficking and money laundering conspiracy which exists in this district.
Is the seizure of $$675,851 in February, 2014 from a "money laundering associate" of the Guzman brothers significant? Coincidentally (or not) two more defendants were added to the Chicago case of Zambada-Niebla, Alfredo Guzman-Salazar, Zambada-Garcia and El Chapo in late February, 2014. (Sixth Superseding Indictment here.)
One is Heriberto Zazueta-Godoy, aka "Capi Beto" or "Don Beto." Zazueta is alleged to be a Sinaloa cell leader involved with drug and money laundering offenses, now mostly related to El Chapo and his son, Alfredo Guzman-Salazar. He is on the Government’s designated Narco trafficker list. He’s also been around a long time and was alleged in earlier years to be working with the Zambadas. He was charged in 2006 in the District of Columbia in a 25 defendant case involving the attempted transport of a large amount of cocaine from Colombia on the M/v Guayacan in January, 2006. (Case 05-cr-00342 Document 9, 04/18/06.) He was allegedly the Sinaloa representative with respect to financial arrangements for the transport. He was also alleged to have been involved in the transport and seizure of 19 tons of cocaine from the M/V Gatun off the coast of Panama in 2007 (at that time, this was the largest seizure ever.) Here's a screengrab of the Treasury Notice designating him a major drug trafficker, citing his role in the M/V Gatun, and stating he was connected to the Zambada faction. There's no mention of the Guzman Loera faction in the notice. The media also reported his connection to the Zambada faction.
But by 2008, according to the Chicago Indictment, he was working with both the Zambada and Guzman factions in supplying heroin to the Flores twins. Zazueta was never arrested or extradited on the D.C. charges, and the Government moved to dismiss the case against him in 2010, saying even if he were apprehended, it would take one to two years to extradite him, and it no longer had custody of the cooperating witnesses it would need to prove the charges against him. (Document 431).
As to more recent money laundering activity, Count Five of the 6th Superseding Indictment in Chicago charges only Zazueta, El Chapo, and Alfredo with money laundering. The Indictment has two forfeiture counts, and Zazueta is included in both. One forfeiture count pertains to illegal drug activity and includes both the Guzman and Zambada factions, while the second forfeiture count pertains only to the money laundering charged in Count Five, and names only Zazueta, El Chapo and Alfredo. The Zambadas aren't included in this forfeiture count.
Since no motions have yet been filed in Zazueta's case yet, there's not much additional information available about him. But it seems possible that that the seizure of money in late February, 2014 mentioned in Torres' complaint has something to do with Zazueta and Alfredo. If so, it's not at all clear to me why Ivan isn't mentioned or charged in the Chicago case, and why the San Diego case makes no reference to Torres or Alfredo.
By October, 2014, when Chicago charged Torres, it was obviously aware that San Diego had charged Ivan in July and initiated a forfeiture against the plane and cars Torres helped the brothers obtain. Why wasn't Torres added to the San Diego case with Ivan, the Zambadas and the plane and cars? If it's because Torres was also connected to the money laundering activity of Alfredo and/or Zazueta, why did the Government file a separate case against him in Chicago, rather than adding him to the existing case against Alfredo and Zazueta?
Something's missing from this puzzle. I hope someone who follows these cases more closely than I do will figure it out. I'd especially like to know why San Diego chose this week to unseal these Indictments, none of which are new, and didn't even mention the Torres arrest in October, 2014, or his Indictment, which is clearly relevant to its prize case against the Zambadas and Ivan Guzman-Salazar, and which as far as I can tell, is the only significant new case that has been brought since the last indictments in July.
"Great minds have purpose, others have wishes" - Washington Irvin
The US Treasury has also added some more co-conspirators to the kinpin list, including the brother in law of Alfredo Guzman Salazar.
Those that say, don't know. Those that know, don't say.
This article has hints to previously stated law enforcement rumors about their were abouts while in custody.
Posted: 01/27/2015, 06:56pm | Mark Brown
I couldn’t tell you how many drug defendants have come before U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo in his 20 years on the bench, but surely hundreds if not thousands.
By the judge’s own reckoning, though, too many of them were low-level cogs in the supply chain that feeds America’s never-ending demand for illegal narcotics.
For every one of those flunkies that Castillo sent to prison, he knew from experience there would be no shortage of others willing to take their place.
“I know this because I see them every day,” Castillo said Tuesday.
That’s why it must have bothered Castillo somewhere down deep when minutes later the “most significant” drug dealers he’d ever encountered — operators of what federal prosecutors say was the largest known drug enterprise in Chicago’s history — walked out of his courtroom with measly 14-year prison sentences.
Castillo said the sentences he handed down for Pedro and Margarito Flores as part of a plea bargain were proper in light of the twin brothers’ extraordinary cooperation with prosecutors to help dismantle the infamous Sinaloa Cartel, including the indictment of El Chapo himself, Joaquin Guzman Loera.
I don’t disagree. That doesn’t make it much easier to swallow.
It’s as if the nation’s whole drug-enforcement effort is predicated on catching the legendary Big Fish, but these two whoppers found the catch-and-release loophole at the bottom of the live well.
The 33-year-old twins’ drug trafficking was so significant that it could be measured in tons, not kilos — more than 60 tons of cocaine in all over the course of the conspiracy, and that doesn’t count the heroin they also supplied.
Half the cocaine the Flores brothers brought into the country was distributed around Chicago, and the rest delivered to drug dealers in other major cities.
The pair may not have been the biggest fish in the U.S. drug dealers’ food chain, but nobody in Chicago outranked them, according to prosecutors. Of course, the Sinoloa Cartel is bigger.
Castillo, who enjoys a reputation for taking his sentencing responsibilities seriously and for putting the hammer down in public-corruption cases, acknowledged his anguish over the case.
If not for the extent of the Flores’ cooperation, which included catching “Chapo” on a wiretap discussing a drug deal, Castillo said he would have sentenced them to life in prison, as they would have deserved.
But their plea agreement set parameters that limited the sentence to somewhere between 10 and 16 years with prosecutors recommending the low end of the range as an incentive to other highly placed criminals to come forward and cooperate. Under the circumstances, Castillo really had no choice.
Castillo seemed to take solace in observing that “in a very real way,” the twins were leaving his courtroom “with a life sentence” anyway, because for the rest of their lives they’ll be looking over their shoulders for the assassins sent to even the score.
True, but that’s a helluva way to get justice.
In their matching khaki prison uniforms and squared away haircuts, the boyish-looking brothers could have passed for young Marines when they stepped into the courtroom, right down to their Desert Storm combat boots.
The Flores brothers were making their first public appearance in court since they entered protective federal custody in 2008, and I’m sure many of the people who crowded into Castillo’s courtroom to get a look at them were as surprised as me to see they stood barely more than five-feet tall.
But their barrel chests suggested they know their way around a weight room — and a fight.
Each main spoke barely loud enough to be heard in the rear of the courtroom as they took turns telling Castillo they accepted responsibility for their actions.
Margarito, who parts his hair on the right, told the judge he was “ashamed . . . embarrassed . . . regretful.”
“I’ve put my family in harm’s way, and I will never forgive myself,” he said.
Pedro, who parts his hair on the left, also said he was “sorry.”
Castillo wondered aloud what the two homegrown hoodlums, products of Little Village, might have accomplished if they hadn’t got involved in crime.
“There’s a lot of things you are, but stupid is not one of them,” he said.
Castillo said he was not “naive enough” to think that the drug highway into the city is “now closed down” with the twins’ arrest.
During his own time in the drug wars, “nothing has really changed,” Castillo said.
And five years from now, Castillo will still be handling drug cases
"Great minds have purpose, others have wishes" - Washington Irvin
It's amazing how complex these investigations and then the eventual indictments and fall out can be…..You could, and many do, engage in this on 40 hr plus a week basis, and still not understand. That cessna is definitely listed on the San Diego indictments. Do you have a theory? San Diego chose to unseal them, it's been a three year long case, and I think all involved wanted their just due.
Alos, any links to these affidavits or indictments? Besides the released Zamabada CCE one from San Diego. There were 14.
The Flores Twins have definitely fallen from grace, and maybe their lives won't be comfortable for a long time….but I have no respect for them, and only think the worst of them. This whole compelling people to flip for short sentences….sends the wrong message, no matter who you are…and only benefits the government.
I find it ironic that the gold in the Flores' snitching crown was getting Chapo on tape, and ostensibly that's why they received reduced sentences.... yet today the Mexican AG announced Chapo will not be extradited.
So who does the tape benefit? Will Mexico use it? Highly unlikely.
And it occurs to me that the DEA/CIA knew all of Chapo's lieutenants in Mexico... they could have brought them all down. They were working with Vicente directly! One of the articles above implies that it was the Flores twins who led to his arrest. Hard to believe.
They turned themselves in, they ratted out their own customers and a LOT LOT LOT of low level guys. And now the DEA is pleased with themselves?
Anyone want to take odds on how long they will last in prison, or if they make it to their release, how long they will last on the streets?
They act sorry, ashamed, remorseful.... bs. They are laughing their asses off. They have no remorse or no conscience... they have millions stashed away. They bought Pedro's wife a $100,000 Bentley after they were jailed... which the Feds found out about and took away.
What a fucking joke the DEA is. High fucking five.
Left Pedro and Junior
If U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo could have held his nose for extra emphasis in court on Tuesday, he surely would have done it.
Were it a normal case, Castillo would have handed down life sentences to two of the biggest drug dealers ever to be indicted in Chicago, Southwest Side-bred twins Pedro and Margarito Flores, 33. Castillo, a former prosecutor, said he would have given the twins — the worst drug dealers he’d seen in 20 years on the bench — life in prison, “and I would not hesitate.”
But because of the twins’ extraordinary cooperation with the government, Castillo sentenced them to just 14 years each.
A bitter pill to swallow.
But well worth it.
The twins’ crimes were as extraordinary as was their cooperation. They helped turn Chicago into a $1.8 billion cocaine- and heroin-dealing hub for the Sinaloa cartel. Castillo called their work “devastating. It is simply horrific.”
But at the height of their success, the twins turned on cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who was the world’s most wanted man until his arrest in Mexico last year. Their cooperation led to the indictment of 64 Sinaloa-connected players, including the arrest of “El Chapo.” Count the twins’ capture as a big coup, not the normal low-level drug dealers Castillo normally sees.
Though the drug trade continues, as a downcast and frustrated Castillo said on Tuesday, government cooperation is essential and should be rewarded.
“Let the message go out,” Castillo said. “You can cooperate with the government and get a discount, even for behavior as devastating as this was.”
That edict applies to other crimes as well, particularly the violent crimes that rip apart so many Chicago neighborhoods. If more people spoke up, if more people helped squash the anti-snitch street culture, imagine the deterrent effect it could have.
No one thinks the Flores twins, or any snitch for that matter, gets off easy. After the twins complete their 14-year sentence, their imprisonment will continue. With the Sinaloa cartel after them, these young men will be looking over their shoulders for the rest of their lives.
Their punishment will never end.
"Great minds have purpose, others have wishes" - Washington Irvin
In reply to this post by ToPHeR
14yrs plus reward money:
Chapos capture: 5 million
Vicentíllo capture: 5 million
Mayito gordo: 2.5 million
Chino anthrax: 5 million
And that's just the 17.5 million that we no of, for sure their responsible for other Sinaloa hierarchy whom had million dollar bounty on their heads, so these guys will sit in jail waiting to get out and enjoy their reward money, what a story.
" Es más chíngon el chapó que el gobierno mexicano"
You really think they are gonna give them the reward money????
In reply to this post by Maddy
How many millions could they have stashed away in different spots. Bank Accounts, Under the mattress, In the wall, buried in the yard. If they make it through the 14 year there set.
How twins from Little Village rose to win trust of drug kingpin 'El Chapo'
Annie Sweeney, Jason Meisner
10:36 am, March 27, 2015
Margarito Flores was cruising through Humboldt Park in a brand new Cadillac on a fall evening when Chicago police stopped him.
At the time, Flores, 22, and his twin brother Pedro had built a drug empire that moved literally tons of cocaine and heroin into the U.S. from Mexico, and they were living a life that reflected it — houses, luxury cars and cash-fueled partying on Rush Street.
But when Margarito was stopped about 9 p.m. that night in 2003, it was no big drug bust. He'd driven into a routine checkpoint on West Chicago Avenue with his seat belt undone and a joint in the ashtray worth no more than $5, a comical amount considering the high-level trafficking he was engaged in. The misdemeanor charge that resulted was the most serious trouble either twin had then faced.
Despite their rapid rise to becoming wholesale distributors for Mexico's infamous Sinaloa cartel, the twins had cautiously avoided the pitfalls of gang life in their Little Village neighborhood and largely steered clear of law enforcement.
The tight-knit brothers kept their heads down and made few enemies. Instead, they relied on their smarts, personality, greed and, most important, each other. It was the quintessential American success story turned on its head.
"That is a unique dynamic — twin brothers who always looked out for each other," said a former Chicago police investigator. "And it served them well."
Even when the heat inevitably came, the brothers were a step ahead. About a year after Margarito's traffic stop, with a federal investigation into their operation mounting, the twins relocated to Mexico and expanded, gaining the trust of the world's most powerful drug boss, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
When it all came crashing down in the spring of 2008, the brothers took yet another extraordinary gamble. They came in to talk to law enforcement — and soon became two of the most significant undercover operatives in the history of the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago.
In one intense month, the Flores twins took on the most dangerous cooperation imaginable, recording conversations with Guzman on the phone and taping face-to-face talks with his top leaders using a recorder hidden in a pocket.
Their undercover work ultimately led to arguably Chicago's most significant drug indictments ever — against the feared El Chapo and his immediate Sinaloa cartel underbosses, the leader of a rival cartel and dozens of other drug wholesalers and middlemen from Chicago to Mexico.
After reviewing hundreds of pages of court records and interviewing law enforcement and people who knew the twins in their youth, the Tribune has pieced together new details of their lives on the streets of Little Village, of the multikilogram deals they cut at a grubby used car dealership on Cicero Avenue and, ultimately, of the high-level meetings they had with El Chapo himself in the mountains of Sinaloa.
Pedro and Margarito Flores were born in 1981 to Mexican immigrant parents. As they grew, they became known as "Pete" and "J" or "Junior." The identical brothers — delivered 17 minutes apart — spent their first 14 years in a modest, one-story red brick home in the heart of Little Village, a working-class enclave where families contend daily with gang and drug violence.
Their parents had immigrated to Chicago around 1970, raising a large family just steps from the neighborhood's bustling 26th Street corridor of shops and restaurants. Their parents worked factory jobs.
On South Homan Avenue, the street where they were born, neighbors remembered the twins as polite boys who could often be found throwing a football in the street or buzzing around on a motorcycle. They bought dulces and papitas at the corner store with their friends and were never seen in the colors of the Latin Kings, the street gang that ruled the neighborhood.
"Eran chamaquitos," said a smiling neighbor, using a Spanish term of endearment.
But court documents show the twins were exposed to the dangerous undercurrent of Little Village from a young age. Their two older brothers racked up arrests — some drug-related — beginning when the twins were just 5. One was caught in 1989 with a group of teens driving through the neighborhood firing guns out of a car while flashing gang signs and yelling "King Love," police alleged. The charges were dismissed.
In 1992, when the twins were just 10, Chicago police executed a search warrant on the Flores home and found $195,000 worth of marijuana in feed bags, court records show. Two years later, gang intelligence officers raided the home again, this time recovering a .380-caliber handgun in a bedroom. Their brother, Armando Flores, told police he kept the weapon because the neighborhood was not safe for his family, according to police records.
Despite the proximity to the drug culture, the twins stayed clear of serious trouble as teens and entered high school at Farragut Career Academy, just a few blocks from the family home. An acquaintance recalled the two as well-dressed, quiet and low-key — always around if trouble was brewing after school but tending to linger in the background. They were always together, said the acquaintance, who like many others interviewed by the Tribune asked not to be identified out of concern for their safety.
The first time the twins popped up on any public law enforcement record was 1999. Pedro was charged in DuPage County with domestic violence for allegedly hitting a woman, though the charges were later dropped. That same year, both were charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass to a vehicle after police stopped them sitting in a car that was obstructing traffic on a Little Village street.
On the arrest report, Margarito listed his occupation as a mechanic, Pedro as a student. But in reality, the twins were already established drug dealers with a low-level contact in the Sinaloa cartel, court records show.
The veneer of law-abiding citizens was still in place when Margarito was stopped at the seat belt checkpoint in 2003. He told the arresting officers he was a barber at a salon on South Pulaski Road, records show. The business, Millennium Cuts, offered "the best fades on the South Side." Federal agents later alleged the shop was one of a handful of legitimate businesses the twins set up as a front.
The brothers worked in concert but took on distinct roles to build their business. Margarito was responsible for making sure the drugs got into the U.S. from supply sources in Mexico. Pedro ran operations on the ground in Chicago, where he had to coordinate the movements of about 15 couriers and ensure they made connections with the wholesale customers.
"Junior … was more personable on the phone," courier Antonio Aguilera testified at a federal trial. "And Pedro was more, 'Go here, go there.'"
The twins expanded their customer base along a busy stretch of Cicero Avenue, where brother Armando worked in a car dealership called Crown Motors in the late 1990s.
According to federal court documents, Armando had been selling drugs out of the Cicero dealership, and in August 1998 he was arrested by federal authorities and charged with narcotics trafficking. He was sentenced the next year to five years in prison — creating a vacuum for his younger brothers to fill.
An acquaintance of Armando's told authorities he introduced Pedro to some of Armando's customers in 1999, court records show. The following spring an employee at Crown handed over an even bigger prize — an introduction to Armando's suppliers.
Over the next three years, the business took off, with the twins routinely selling multikilo loads of cocaine to dealers in Milwaukee, according to the documents. They also had become quite rich in the process. By the time they were 22, the brothers owned five houses as well as a fleet of luxury vehicles and motorcycles, court documents show. Margarito boasted of spending $20,000 on landscaping for his home, according to the documents.
The twins were also regulars at several Rush Street clubs, arriving in BMWs and picking up the bill for friends. People who were there recall the brothers were always together, friendly and easygoing, ordering the most expensive dishes in restaurants and tipping generously. They also enjoyed travel, jetting to Las Vegas to catch Oscar De la Hoya fights at the Mandalay Bay casino, court records show.
Acquaintances who spoke to the Tribune said that while the twins had a reputation for avoiding trouble, everyone knew they were into something. It was hard to miss — the boyish-looking brothers with their neatly pressed clothes, wearing the latest Air Jordan sneakers, driving Jaguars and Escalades and always carrying cash.
But their well-established street rep also came at a cost. In the summer of 2003, the twins were targeted for a kidnapping by a notorious Chicago drug dealer who had been introduced to the brothers at Hoops the Gym on the Near West Side, where they played pickup basketball, according to court records.
The dealer's associates, posing as cops, snatched Pedro out of his blue Lexus, covered his eyes and took him to a Burbank basement. Margarito negotiated about a $2 million ransom of cocaine and cash, the documents allege.
Pedro was released unharmed. Even though the twins had a good idea of who was involved, they simply absorbed the loss rather than strike back.
Their restraint in such matters would become well-known on the street.
Under the radar
Several couriers who moved drugs and money for the Flores operation later provided an inside look in their trial testimony at how the brothers used similar discipline and business savvy to stay under the radar of law enforcement.
Couriers were recruited from just about anywhere — one met Pedro at his wedding, while a former college football player had experience in the trucking business and a history of drug abuse, according to federal court documents.
They set up stash houses in Chicago and the suburbs that were equipped with secret compartments to hide contraband. Security was so tight that even the remote controls that operated the hydraulic trapdoors were often hidden — including two stowed in a hair spray can with a false bottom.
Couriers were responsible for keeping utilities paid and sometimes spent long, idle hours in the homes. Trial photos of one stash house in Hinsdale showed homey touches like a Christmas elf on the front door. The same photos showed money counters and loads of cash, including one 8-foot-long, 3-foot-high stack of bills as big as a coffee table.
One courier, Hector Simental, testified that they were instructed to never have more than $7 million cash in one house. He described a laborious money-counting and bundling process that involved Seal-a-Meal vacuum bags, cling wrap, duct tape and fabric sheets to throw off police dogs. Couriers typically collected between $100,000 and $1 million from each customer, and counting it all could be a full-time job.
"About a million dollars would take us maybe two hours," Simental testified.
To evade wiretaps, the twins constantly switched phones used to communicate with customers, sometimes twice a month, according to court testimony. Their crews drove vehicles with hidden compartments all over Chicago to exchange drugs and money. One trap door could be tripped only by pushing a foot pedal on the floor and simultaneously activating the windows and defroster.
While the operation was not unheard of in its sophistication, experts said the twins upped the game.
"You had some pretty young, ambitious, cautious CEOs here who really looked at this as a business," said Jack Riley, former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration office in Chicago and now chief of operations at its Washington headquarters. "... They moved up the line."
In spite of the twins' caution, authorities in Milwaukee had begun working their way up the chain by the spring of 2003, first picking off dealers who were buying from them in Wisconsin. Authorities starting hearing about suppliers named "Peter" and "Junior" or "June" Flores in Chicago, court documents show. Soon investigators zeroed in on the twins, executing search warrants on several Flores properties.
The raids led to a drug trafficking indictment against the Flores twins in 2005. But by then, they knew what was coming and had fled to Mexico. It would be three years before the charges caught up with them amid a bloody cartel war south of the border.
In Mexico the brothers' distribution of cocaine flourished, Pedro Flores said in a statement to a federal grand jury in 2009.
The twins' status was cemented in the spring of 2005 when they were called to a three-day meeting with several high-ranking Sinaloa bosses, including a sit-down on the last day with El Chapo at his mountaintop compound.
According to their grand jury statements, Guzman was their main supplier, with a vast operation that ran drugs out of South America using 747 jumbo jets, submarines, speedboats and even amphibious vessels to avoid law enforcement at sea.
Once the narcotics were moved to U.S. distribution hubs in Los Angeles and Chicago, the Flores brothers' own network went to work, shipping drugs to wholesale customers in eight cities, including New York, Washington and Cincinnati via tractor-trailers and boxcars, the loads hidden behind false walls, in crates of avocados or frozen fish.
Exactly what allowed the twins to get so close to El Chapo — long known for layers of security that kept him insulated from all but his most trusted associates — is not part of the public record. Rumors have circulated that the twins' father, Margarito Sr., knew people in the cartel and passed those connections to his boys. Others believe the twins met a contact while they were briefly detained in a Mexican prison. Some say it was through an introduction in a seaside bar in Veracruz.
However the initial connection was made, experts said it was the twins' ability to network and make money that got them to the top.
"It's all about who you know," said Tristan Reed, Mexico security analyst for the global intelligence and advisory firm Stratfor. "They had very powerful friends in Mexico."
And there was no more powerful friend to have than Guzman, who at one point even made a rare personal intervention that may have saved Pedro's life.
According to federal documents, Pedro had a falling out with a former Sinaloa associate over a drug debt that led to him being kidnapped and held for ransom — hardly a rare occurrence in the Mexican cartel world and one that often ends badly.
But when Guzman learned of the dispute, he stepped in and negotiated Pedro's release. Then, in a subsequent meeting with the twins, Guzman offered the honor of letting them kill the kidnapper personally, court records show. The twins declined. The cartel member later turned up dead anyway, but once again the Flores brothers had stayed above the fray.
By the spring of 2008, though, the twins faced an even graver threat. A bloody war had broken out between two factions of the "Federation" — El Chapo and co-leader Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada Garcia of Sinaloa on the one hand and Arturo Beltran Leyva, now heading his own cartel, on the other.
The twins were caught in the middle, having trafficked narcotics for both sides. With cartel leaders now locked in opposition, dealing with either put "you at risk of retribution by the other," Reed said.
Their lives and those of their families were in danger, and the twins decided they were ready to talk to authorities in the U.S. With the Milwaukee indictment still pending, a return trip to the U.S. would be risky, but the twins also realized they had something to leverage. So they made a strategic decision to contact law enforcement.
"I guess you could say it was a feeling-out process because they were looking to come to back to the United States," DEA Agent Matthew McCarthy later testified. "They knew there was a federal indictment over their head ... (but) you know, they are looking for reassurances."
An attorney representing the twins first reached out to the DEA with news that the brothers were ready to come home.
A series of phone calls between authorities and the twins followed, setting the stage for their cooperation. On Nov. 6, 2008, DEA agents and a prosecutor from Chicago took the unusual step of traveling to Mexico under tight security to meet with Pedro and speak in more detail about what cooperation would involve, according to trial testimony from DEA agents.
For former federal prosecutor Thomas Shakeshaft, now in private practice in Chicago, the Floreses' case was the most consuming for him at the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago, with its dozens of defendants and constant security concerns. It was also the most rewarding.
"It was a nerve-racking trip," Shakeshaft said of the meeting in Mexico that launched the case. "But I recognized, as did DEA and other law enforcement agencies that it was an opportunity to make a significant dent in drug trafficking in Chicago, as well as nationally and internationally."
What resulted from the intense discussion was unprecedented: The brothers agreed to cooperate from Mexico while distributing tons of cocaine and heroin simultaneously for two warring, violent cartels.
Over the next month, the twins provided investigators with details on massive amounts of drugs flowing into the U.S., leading to some 20 seizures of drugs and money in Chicago and LA, with federal agents and Chicago police sometimes running two operations in one day.
In an even bolder move, the twins recorded about 70 conversations with cartel members, over the phone and in person, taped not with a sophisticated, well-hidden wire but by stuffing a recording device into a hip pocket. They recorded numerous high-ranking Sinaloa cartel members, including Guzman's logistics coordinator who told intriguing tales of how El Chapo moved his drugs in an intricate network of tunnels.
And on Nov. 15, Pedro made perhaps the most stunning recording in the history of Chicago drug cases when he called El Chapo to talk about reducing the price of a recent shipment.
El Chapo: "My friend!"
Pedro: "What's up, how are you?"
El Chapo: "Good, good. Nice talking to you. How's your brother?"
Pedro: "Everyone is fine. It's too bad I wasn't able to see you the other day."
After the niceties, Guzman agreed to reduce the price on a 20-kilo load of heroin. Authorities now had one of the most wanted men in the world on tape placing himself right in the middle of an international drug conspiracy with direct links to Chicago.
With so many drug seizures being made in such a short time, the danger for the Flores twins was escalating by the day. By the end of November, they were flown out of the country by the DEA, their family following in cars and just a few personal items, according to court documents.
Once safely in the U.S., the twins sat with federal agents and continued to make calls, focusing now on their stateside customers.
One by one, they set them up, getting customers to accept a sham delivery of drugs, leading to more than two dozen arrests. In the calls, Pedro's speech switched from polite Spanish to slang as he peppered the conversation with greetings like "bro" and "G," evidence of how seamlessly he moved between the streets of Chicago and the Sinaloa mountains.
While the twins were safe in witness protection, their undercover work did have tragic repercussions. Shortly after their cooperation became known in 2009, their father returned to Mexico despite warnings from his family and federal authorities. Within days, he was kidnapped. While his body has never been found, he is presumed murdered, prosecutors said.
A note left on the windshield of his father's abandoned car, found in the Sinaloa desert, had a message for the twins: Shut up or we'll send you his head.
Looking over their shoulders
Guzman had escaped prison once by hiding in a laundry cart, but his 13 years on the run ended in February 2014, when Mexican police stormed a condo tower in the Pacific resort town of Mazatlan, and found the drug lord sleeping in bed next to his beauty-queen wife. The dramatic arrest was the culmination of a multinational manhunt that included a narrow escape in the town of Culiacan, where Guzman fled through secret tunnels that tied in with the municipal sewage system.
It's unknown whether El Chapo ever will be extradited to face charges in Chicago.
For Pedro and Margarito Flores, their day of reckoning finally came this past January. More than six years after they turned themselves in, they walked into a federal courtroom for the first time amid heightened security at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in downtown Chicago.
The twins appeared considerably older than the mug shots issued when they were fugitives in 2005. Now 33, they had deep lines set around their eyes, and the years in custody had packed some weight on their 5-foot-4-inch frames.
Dressed in tan jail garb with their hair buzzed short on the sides — Margarito's parted on the left, Pedro's on the right — they sat side by side at the defense table in U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo's hushed courtroom, whispering to each other and tapping their feet nervously as they waited for their sentencing hearing to begin
When it came time to address the court, the twins spoke quietly, without accents, their voices devoid of the tough street slang heard in recorded conversations with couriers.
Margarito spoke first, choking with emotion as he apologized for his "life of crime."
"I'm ashamed. I'm embarrassed," he said while reading from a folded piece of notebook paper. "I'm regretful for being stupid enough to make such bad decisions. I disgraced myself and my children. I put my family in harm's way, and I will never forgive myself."
His brother followed by thanking God for "seeing me through all that danger and allowing me to be here today.
"I thank the government, the DEA, and you, your honor, for allowing me the opportunity to not spend the rest of my life in prison," Pedro said.
In sentencing the brothers to 14 years behind bars, Castillo said it was a shame they didn't use their street smarts and business acumen to make a legitimate living.
"I look at the two Flores brothers, and I think, growing up in Chicago under different circumstances, both of you gentlemen probably could have accomplished a great deal if you had been law-abiding," the judge said. "Because there's a lot of things you are, but stupid is not one of them."
It had been 16 years since the twins from Little Village began their journey from the back streets of Little Village to the mountains of Sinaloa.
They'd escaped kidnappings and dodged indictments, ultimately making the bold choice to dismantle their billion-dollar empire by going into witness protection as they helped the government bring case after case.
With credit for time already spent in custody, the twins will likely be released in a little more than five years. But nothing will be the same. They will have new identities and will likely live far from Chicago. Their immediate families have already been placed in witness protection. As Castillo said, the twins and their relatives will be looking over their shoulders for the rest of their lives.
And perhaps most difficult for twins whose closeness has defined their lives, safety concerns may force them to live apart when they are freed from prison. But on this afternoon, they walked out together, as always, without a glance back to the gallery.
"Great minds have purpose, others have wishes" - Washington Irvin
|Free forum by Nabble||Edit this page|