Final round: Cartel twins vs. cop-backed kidnapper

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Final round: Cartel twins vs. cop-backed kidnapper

Windycitykid
This post was updated on .
Final round: Cartel twins vs. cop-backed kidnapper
Posted: 04/16/2015, 05:17pm | By Kim Janssen and Frank Main

http://chicago.suntimes.com/news-chicago/7/71/524746/hold-saul-rodriguez

To Pedro Flores, the two men who pulled him over had looked like cops.

But moments later, face down in the back of a windowless van, his hands and feet zip-tied, Flores realized he’d been duped.

At 22, he had been quietly working with his twin brother, Margarito, to create the most successful drug-dealing partnership in Chicago’s history.

Now, hog-tied, his diamond-studded cellphone out of reach, Flores was powerless.

All he could do was whisper a prayer.

“Don’t worry,” one of his captors told him. “Once we get the money, we’re going to cut you loose.”


The Flores twins would come to believe a man they thought was their friend, Saul Rodriguez, was behind the kidnapping. They had known Rodriguez for a few years, and at the time of the kidnapping, as Pedro Flores rode to his uncertain fate, they had plans to go with Rodriguez to Las Vegas to see a welterweight title match. Rodriguez arranged the tickets.


The twins and Rodriguez were all big-time drug dealers, but the similarities ended there. While the twins were loath to resort to violence, Rodriguez reveled in it, according to a Sun-Times review of court records and interviews with law enforcement and underworld figures.

At the time, the kidnapping in September 2003 might have seemed like Rodriguez’s knockout blow to the twins. But 11 years after Pedro Flores was snatched from an alley behind his family’s Southwest Side home, he and his brother appear to have been playing a longer, smarter game: rope-a-dope.

On Friday when Rodriguez faces sentencing in Chicago for a career of killings, home invasions and drug trafficking, a federal judge will pass final judgment on the twins’ and Rodriguez’s contrasting routes to the top of Chicago’s underworld.

Set them up or rip them off

Rodriguez grew up on the South Side where he ran with a street gang called La Raza. By the time Pedro Flores was kidnapped, Rodriguez had organized several kidnappings and personally participated in the abduction, torture and murder of another drug dealer.

If he wasn’t ripping off his rivals, he was setting them up.

He had a sweet deal with the cops. Rodriguez not only sold his own large amounts of heroin and cocaine. When he tipped the Chicago Police off to his rivals’ stashes, he also got paid for every kilo the cops recovered.

In the four years leading up to 2000, Rodriguez netted $800,000 in fees for his police tips — a figure that likely made him the department’s highest-paid employee.

His handler, narcotics Officer Glenn Lewellen, became his partner in crime, tipping him off about police operations and using his badge to carry out kidnappings at Rodriguez’s behest.

Emboldened by the police protection, Rodriguez became a boxing promoter and branched into real estate, building a strip of town homes in the Brighton Park neighborhood and investing in a Nevada golf course development.

But he took wild risks. A notorious womanizer, he slept with his flunkies’ wives and regularly partied in Vegas, where he laundered money and had all the perks of a high roller.

Nobody around him was safe. He had his best friend killed. Even a **pal whom he’d once helped escape from a Mexican prison, then set up in the drug business, became a target.

**"Alex Estrada aka Dj Twist" I wrote about this twisted web back in 2012

RELATED: Back story i wrote about in 2012
http://borderland-beat-forum.924382.n3.nabble.com/Corridos-myths-amp-the-real-back-story-quot-The-10-year-rat-race-begins-in-Chicago-quot-td4031195.html

Extravagance and restraint

If experience had taught Rodriguez that violence and double-crossing provided big rewards, it taught the Flores twins something else.

From a young age, they were groomed for a life amid drug world royalty.

When they were just 8, the twins rode with their father as he drove from Mexico to Chicago in a vehicle packed with marijuana.

Their dad went to prison and their older brother, Armando, took over the family business. Then he got in trouble with the law, too, so the twins learned the value of discretion.

They started out as customers of Rodriguez, purchasing 15 to 20 kilos at a time. But through their father, they had a link directly to the Mexican cartels. Soon, the amounts of marijuana, cocaine and heroin they would be moving would dwarf anything Rodriguez had ever seen.

Before they turned 25, they controlled the Sinaloa cartel’s distribution network across the Midwest and into Canada, moving an estimated $1.8 billion in drugs through Chicago.

With the near-monopoly of Chicago’s drug supply came riches and toys: custom chopper motorcycles, Lexuses and Bentleys, and their own real estate empire.

With that typical, drug-dealer extravagance, though, came some uncommon restraint.

Where lesser dealers might have settled unpaid debts with bullets, the Flores twins simply cut bad debtors off to avoid police attention.

“They did not cut off fingers to teach people about paying,” said a source intimately familiar with the brothers’ methods.

But that restraint would turn into a reputation for weakness that Rodriguez would exploit.

“I know people who were terrified of Rodriguez. His reputation was a no-nonsense, trigger-happy kind of dude,” said attorney Joseph “The Shark” Lopez, who has represented dozens of players in Chicago’s drug world.

“The Flores brothers were just drug dealers, gentlemen drug dealers. They were afraid of him.”

The Wrecking Crew

Rodriguez met the twins in the early 2000s at Hoops, a basketball gym on the Near West Side. After three years of friendship, he was ready to pounce.

He assembled a crew out of central casting.

In addition to the crooked cop, Lewellen, there was a suburban mom whose day job was driving an ambulance but who also acted as a drug courier and once arranged the kidnapping of her own grandmother.

She cashed in on the kidnapping twice. After family members paid the ransom, the woman comforted her unwitting grandmother, telling her grandmother that she had paid the ransom herself and would need to be repaid.

Rodriguez’s muscle came from the “Wrecking Crew,” three oversized brothers named Manny, Hector and Jorge Uriarte. Rounding up the bunch was Fares Umar, a heavy-set thug who hosted the crew at his Al Capone-themed wedding.

The crew had been watching the twins’ daily routines for some time when, in the summer of 2003, one of the twins’ associates tipped Rodriguez about their movements.

The plan was for Umar and Lewellen to disguise themselves as undercover cops, riding in a green Ford Crown Victoria they had tricked out with lights and sirens.

It worked perfectly. When Pedro pulled up to the three-flat where he lived with his brother near Archer and Keeler he spotted the fake cop car, did a U-turn and parked in an alley. Moments later — after Pedro’s brother and a pal left on motorcycles —  Lewellen and Umar pulled up in the Crown Vic, frisked Pedro and tossed him into a panel van, which headed to a home in west suburban Burbank, owned by one of the crew members.

At the home, the crew tied the blindfolded Pedro to a chair in the basement and kept him there for 24 hours.

A pet parrot, trained by the kidnappers, kept him company.

“F— you,” the parrot squawked.

Rodriguez came by but was discrete, since he feared Pedro Flores could identify him. He left the negotiations to his crew, who reassured Flores he’d be OK if his brother came through with the ransom: 100 kilos of cocaine, worth at least $1.5 million.

At first, Margarito Flores did not come through. Threatened with the murder of his twin, Margarito showed cold-blooded detachment by trying to cheat the kidnappers with a load of weak cocaine.

Only after a furious Pedro Flores called his brother, reminding him his life was on the line, did Margarito make good on the ransom, and Pedro was freed.

Just a couple of months later, the twins traveled to Las Vegas to see Oscar De La Hoya fight Shane Mosley at the MGM Grand. Rodriguez had arranged for their tickets and hotel.

Though the twins suspected Rodriguez, they said nothing when they partied with him at a nightclub after the fight.

When Margarito Flores lost money at the gambling tables, Rodriguez was only too happy to lend him a big wad of cash.

It all comes crashing down

And that, for a few years, was that.

If the kidnapping was not forgotten, it became a footnote, just one in a series of wild escapades that would mark a dizzy five-year spell of excess for Rodriguez and the Flores twins.

By the time they were federally indicted in Milwaukee in 2005, the twins had already fled to Mexico. They grew their empire in exile, gaining in stature after they enjoyed personal audiences with the boss of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman himself.


Flown into meetings at El Chapo’s secret mountain-top lair, the twins secured the rights to distribute cocaine by the ton through Chicago.

Back in Chicago, Rodriguez was still playing a lower-level game. His crew eventually ripped off at least 29 other dealers.

In one particularly ruthless turn, a cartel hired Rodriguez to investigate a robbery, not knowing Rodriguez had done it himself. Rodriguez happily found an innocent “suspect” to torture.

Rodriguez wasn’t finished with the Flores twins, either. While they were in hiding in Mexico, he kidnapped their top courier and stole $4 million more. When Rodriguez’s crew members found hidden loot at a Flores stash house, they shouted “Bingo!”

Then it all came crashing down.

Rodriguez’s crew was busted in a Drug Enforcement Administration sting, when they were robbing a Joliet-area warehouse that Rodriguez believed was loaded with the twins’ drugs, sources say.

The Flores twins’ run came to an end when they found themselves caught in the middle of a deadly cartel war between El Chapo and a rival boss they’d also dealt with.

Calculating to the end, at the height of their power, the twins made a business decision to turn themselves in, taking the monumental decision to become the biggest drug snitches in U.S. history.

The twins had much to offer.

They risked their lives recording cartel leaders in incriminating conversations. And they taped El Chapo in a phone call that tied him to a heroin deal on Chicago’s West Side. Dozens of indictments flowed from their cooperation.

The feds rewarded them with a blockbuster deal. Their family was placed in witness protection, and the twins, who were sentenced to just 14 years in prison earlier this year, will likely be free by the time they are 41 years old — and may have millions of dollars in hidden drug money waiting.

“Everyone in the city thinks you have money,” the judge who sentenced them acknowledged.

Rodriguez, by contrast, had little to give.

He, too, cut a deal with prosecutors. But all he could offer was his testimony against Lewellen, the corrupt cop, and a handful of lesser dealers.

So following his capture, he tried one last trick. Incarcerated at the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center in 2008, he managed to get himself appointed as an orderly in the segregated housing unit. Inside the unit, held in solitary confinement, was one of the cartel bosses the Flores twins had secretly recorded.

The boss, Vicente Zambada Niebla — the playboy son of El Chapo’s second in command — wanted the twins dead, and was prepared to pay for information. Rodriguez told what he knew, sharing the intel that helped his crew kidnap Pedro Flores all those years ago.

Zambada paid Rodriguez’s lawyer $6,000. But Rodriguez’s involvement with the cartel chief ended up costing him far more. When the feds discovered what Rodriguez had done, they tore up his original deal, and are now asking that he get 40 years behind bars on Friday.

If U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall agrees, the Flores brothers will have prevailed — even though they had endured blow after blow from Rodriguez.

As any Vegas oddsmaker can tell you: There’s only one winner in a fight between a brawler and a boxer with a plan.

"Great minds have purpose, others have wishes" - Washington Irvin
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Re: Final round: Cartel twins vs. cop-backed kidnapper

Windycitykid
just in case anyone missed this last month:

How twins from Little Village rose to win trust of drug kingpin El Chapo
Annie Sweeney,  Jason Meisner
6:10 pm, March 28, 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, at its peak, would move 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.

Always together

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.

Distinct roles

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 Agency 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.

Powerful friends

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.

Unprecedented cooperation

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.

asweeney@tribpub.com

jmeisner@tribpub.com
"Great minds have purpose, others have wishes" - Washington Irvin
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Re: Final round: Cartel twins vs. cop-backed kidnapper

Siskiyou_Kid
In reply to this post by Windycitykid
Thanks for the update on this story. I had never connected Rodriguez and Lewellen  with the Pedro Flores kidnapping.

I've been pointing to Lewellyn for years as an example of how CPD is still rotten, even after the Burge scandal was exposed. People can never imagine how crooked these guys are, untill they've had electrodes attached to their nuts to exact a false confession.
Those that say, don't know. Those that know, don't say.
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Re: Final round: Cartel twins vs. cop-backed kidnapper

canadiana
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Interesting story.