Were the Feds consciously turning a blind eye to the twins’ continued drug dealing, drug dealing that fell outside the scope of their informant duties and violated their agreement to work for DEA and FBI to help capture the world’s most wanted man Juan “El Chapo” Guzman? Were they allowed to continue dealing to enrich themselves all the while they were setting up both their bosses in the Sinaloa Cartel and their own customers? In the lead up to their sentencing, it came out that the brothers had engineered at least one massive drug deal without telling the DEA or Justice Department… for 600 pounds of heroin, which the Flores brothers claimed was done merely out of necessity so they could pay off an old drug debt and maintain their relationship with their Cartel connections. One detail the Feds and the Flores’ couldn’t explain away in court very well concerned the purchase of a new $300,000 Bentley for on the twins’ wives during the time of their informant work.
Despite this, the Flores brothers were granted one of the most generous plea deals of all time in exchange for help in capturing the world’s most wanted man-Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who was finally captured in February 2014. But was it worth it? if the U.S. government empowers one drug dealer so they can bring down another, isn’t the “War on Drugs” just an elaborate piece of performance art that gives the appearance of effective action but really just shuffles the deck at the top levels of the global narcotics trade while turning America itself into the world’s largest prison state for small-time drug dealers and users?
“You and your family will always have to look over your shoulder,” the judge said as he sentenced the brothers. “Any time you start your car, you’re going to be wondering, is that car going to start or is it going to explode?”
Security was so tight at their sentencing, and around the Flores brothers generally during their time in custody, that the names of their public defenders were never made part of the official record and they don’t seem to have even been present at their clients’ sentencing.
Prosecutors had actually asked for an even more lenient sentence for the twins, but the Judge gave them 14 years instead of 10 because of the 600 pound heroin shipment they distributed in the Windy City while – a crime that, under normal circumstances, would normally entail numerous life sentences for the key players and decades in prison for anyone with the slightest involvement…for the Flores twins it just meant a few extras years in prison…and several million dollars in extra profits.
“As two of the most well-known cooperating witnesses in the country, the Flores brothers (and their families) will live the rest of their lives in danger of being killed in retribution,” Prosecutors wrote in their sentencing recommendation to justify the ultra-lenient deal.
“The barbarism of the cartels is legend, with a special place reserved for those who cooperate.”
Maybe. But the same prosecutors and Justice department bosses that cut this deal have sentenced tens of thousands of Americans to much lengthier prison terms for drug crimes that pale in comparison to what the Flores brothers dis.
The Flores brothers’ cooperation has had other, more serious, repercussions. Not long after word got out that the brothers were working with the DEA in 2009, their father, Margarito Flores Sr., returned to Mexico despite being warned by his sons and the Feds.
Within days, the father was kidnapped and presumed to be murdered, A note found at the scene of his disappearance said “his sons are next.”
The Flores Brothers Take Over Chicago
The Flores twins got their start in the gang infested Pilsen neighborhood of West Chicago, one of the largest Mexican-American communities in the country. Pedro and Margarito ran with the Latin Kings gang and developed ties to a wide network of Hispanic and black dealers across the Midwest and east coast, and even Asian customers as far away as Vancouver, Canada.
Their family, especially their father, had a long history of moving wholesale quantities of heroin and cocaine for various Mexican cartels for three decades, and when the brothers got in the game in the late 90’s they ascended rapidly. Their family ties gave them entre into wholesale loads coming up to Chicago directly from Mexico, and by 2000 the they began branching out from Chicago, especially to Milwaukee. Their operations in Milwaukee went south when one of the brothers was kidnapped for a ransom of 150 keys of cocaine…which was paid, and the brother was released. A Federal indictment for their operation in Milwaukee followed on the heels of the kidnapping and the twins, only in their mid-20’s at the time, fled to Mexico.
Here’s where the story gets more interesting: being wanted in the States and hiding out in Mexico actually proved a boon for their narcotics career. Their travails in Wisconsin with kidnapping and indictments left them in major debt to the higher-ups in Mexico, as the drug business at the top levels often runs on consignment- the dope is given to the distributors up front and the distributors pay when they sell it. Some sort of meeting was set up in ’05-’06, possibly brokered by their father, with the highest echelons of the Cartel alliance of Sinaloa and the Beltran-Leyva brothers. Not only did the Flores brothers owe money for drugs lost and stolen in the U.S., various Cartel lieutenants and their smuggling groups had been recently busted and the Cartel bigwigs were desperate for new distributors in the States.
Cartel: noun; an association of manufacturers or suppliers with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and restricting competition
The Mexican drug Cartels are not a hierarchal top-down organization like the Mafia, with each layer of power directly answerable to an immediate superior in layers all the way up to a top “boss”. Many different organizations-some small, some large- provide various services to each other as part of the complex infrastructure of moving billions of dollars in drugs through multiple countries and into the U.S., then laundering the money. One group, for example, may provide political protection through their ties to corrupt politicians, another group may be expert in smuggling, other people may be responsible for selling the drugs and collecting the proceeds to be turned over to a team that handle the money laundering, and specialized death squads, such as the infamous Zetas may exist only for security and murder services. This decentralized and amorphous structure is what makes a criminal cartel so impervious to law enforcement.
At the time of the Flores’ meeting in Mexico the Sinaloa Cartel, which included “El Chapo” at the top level of responsibility for transporting his and other allies’ drugs into America, and the Beltran-Leyva brothers had just forged what would be a very lucrative alliance that made them the largest drug trafficking group in the world, and the 20-something year old twins would come to be integral to the operation. After “opening their books” to Sinaloa underboss Vincente Zambada-Niebla, and proving how much coke and heroin they had moved in Chicago, the Flores’ were given cheaper prices and direct access to the product in Mexico and became a vertically integrated organization, involved in the smuggling and sales of drugs in a vast operation that the FBI says supplied wholesalers throughout North America; from Vancouver to Detroit, New York, Philly and Washington, D.C.
Court filings estimate that their annual income in the mid 2000’s at $700 million; the twins would shrink-wrap the cash with food saver machines and hid it inside the homes of family and girlfriends throughout Chicago and its suburbs.
To give you another idea of how important the Flores operation was, compare their $700 million estimated annual income to the estimated street value of all the drugs seized in Chicago according the Chicago Police: $208 million in ’09, $139 million in ’08, $118 million in ’07.
When the twins’ operation was finally shut down for good in ’08, the wholesale price for kilos of cocaine shot up from $18 thousand to $29 thousand overnight; their absence from the scene had caused an immediate drought.
Six years of harmony existed between the Leyva brothers and the Sinaloa cartel, but in 2008, the alliance began to crumble, and the Flores brothers were the reason. Pedro and Margarito were bringing in so much cash in Chicago, sometimes moving as much as 2,000 kilos a month, that “El Chapo” and “Boss of Bosses” Arturo Beltran-Leyva were at each other’s throat over how the hundreds of millions in profits that the Flores’ were sending down from the States should be divvied up. As the tension and distrust between the two factions grew, one of the brothers, Alfredo Beltrán-Leyva, was arrested in Mexico.
The Beltran-Leyva faction blamed El Chapo for tipping off the Mexican Federales and the Beltrán-Leyva brothers took their revenge in the streets of Culiacán, state capital of Sinaloa, where 387 people were murdered in the summer of 2008.
TheFlores’ Turn Snitch
According to court documents, the Flores’ were caught in the middle; the Sinaloa and Beltran-Leyva factions both pressured them with threats of violence if they didn’t continue to move huge amounts of heroin and cocaine for them. Around this time, the Feds infiltrated the twins’ operation and were able to close the noose on them in Mexico and the brothers quickly chose to cooperate with U.S. law enforcement; by 2008, the twins were relaying sensitive information about their Cartel suppliers to federal authorities…while they were still selling massive amounts of drugs and pocketing at least part of the proceeds.
In November 2008, the brothers found themselves negotiating a heroin deal over the phone in Mexico with none other than Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman himself, who had become the most wanted man in the world by that time.
Pedro did the talking, convincing Guzman to take a cheaper price for 40 kilos of heroin. 30 minutes later one of “El Chapo’s” underling was on the phone giving instructions on how and where to make the $1 million cash payment. What the Sinaloa kingpin didn’t know was that U.S. federal agents were listening to the phone calls that night and the 40 keys of heroin had been picked up in Chicago by an undercover agent.
According to their sworn statement in the Federal grand jury proceedings designed to indict Guzman, El Chapo would load the planes with clothes and other goods and fly “humanitarian” missions to South America. Once they landed in South America and finished off-loading their humanitarian aid, the planes would be packed with as much as 12,000 kilos of cocaine and sent back to Mexico City international airport where high ranking Mexican military and police officials would unload and transport the cocaine all the way up to the U.S. border. 12,000 kilos would have been worth $250 million wholesale in Chicago, and worth well over a billion dollars once it was sold as baggies of powder and dime rocks across America.
U.S. Government Culpability
There is more, and this is the part that casts a dark pall over all the bureaucratic minions of our Federal government, the Federal Agents and Prosecutors and Judges, all those levers and gears that compose the great machine of mass incarceration in America that falls so heavily on certain groups, especially black males. Not only were Pedro and Margarito Flores allowed to sell tons of cocaine and heroin while in government employ, upon their return from Mexico after a several year absence from Chicago, the twins orchestrated a massive reverse sting on their drug customers, mostly hailing from cities like Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Detroit. Phone calls were made to let various junior varsity kingpins around the country that “The Twins” were back in business. Enticing deals were offered- bring enough money for 10 keys and we’ll give you another 40 on consignment, offers no sane drug dealer could refuse. Of course, when the various dealers showed up to the deals in parking lots and side-streets around Chicago, Federal agents were waiting to pounce.
Many of the dealers being set-up by the Flores twins ended up with longer prison terms than the brothers themselves, despite the fact that they would have had no dope to sell without the government facilitating the Flores’ operation, a deep injustice if there ever was one. And on top of that, the brothers were likely still doing deals off-the-record to make money for themselves.
At least one shipment — a 276-kilogram load of heroin- made it to Chicago and was distributed on the streets…the Feds claimed they didn’t know anything about it when the story came out during later court proceedings. The brothers claimed they needed the cash to keep the Cartel happy so they could keep working as secret agents. Maybe.
Let’s estimate, conservatively, that each kilo was diluted into 4 kilos and each gram went for $100 on the street…that’s $100 million in dope from that deal alone and it’s unlikely that was the only deal the twins worked outside the parameters of their plea agreement as informants.
The key domino that fell thanks to the Flores brothers’ work in Mexico was that of Vicente Zambada-Niebla. Zambada-Niebla was the highest ranking executive of the Sinaloa cartel in US custody until “El Chapo” Guzman’s arrest in 2014 , and his father, known as “El Mayo” is now considered the most powerful single narco-trafficker in Mexico since “El Chapo’s” arrest. During their undercover work, the Flores twins had secretly tape recorded Vicente in Mexico orchestrating the delivery of huge drug shipments, and Zambada-Niebla was indicted. When he was captured and brought to Chicago, “El Mayo’s” son claimed he was immune from prosecution because he, too had been working for the D.E.A., providing intelligence reports on rival cartels in exchange for the FBI and DEA allowing “tons of illicit drugs continued to be smuggled into Chicago and other parts of the United States.” Quite a shocking defense, and, frankly, a very believable one, considering the evidence of the Federal overnments complicity in the Flores brothers drug operation.
The circumstances of Zambada-Niebla’s arrest point a finger at more US government dirty work. A few hours prior to being taken into custody at his Mexico City safe house, Zambada-Niebla had a meeting with two DEA agents in an upscale hotel directly across the street from the U.S. Embassy! This shocker comes from court documents filed by both the prosecution and the defense. Zambada-Niebla was joined at the DEA meeting by Humberto Loya-Castro, in-house counsel for the Sinaloa Sartel, whom Vicente’s defense team argued was there to serve as intermediary between the DEA and the Cartel.
“Under that agreement, the Sinaloa Cartel, through Loya [Castro], was to provide information accumulated by Mayo, Chapo, and others, against rival Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations to the United States government,” Zambada Niebla alleged in his court pleadings. “In return, the United States government agreed to dismiss the prosecution of the pending case against Loya [Castro], not to interfere with his drug trafficking activities and those of the Sinaloa Cartel, to not actively prosecute him, Chapo, Mayo, and the leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel, and to not apprehend them.”
These stunning revelations were initially published by Narco News, and prompted the US Federal prosecutors to invoke the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA), usually used only in cases with classified intelligence materials, e.g. from the CIA or other US covert operations.
Despite attempting to block the public release of Zambada’s claims of a secret deal between the Sinaloa Cartel and the U.S. government, then-U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, dismissed the claims. “Contrary to [the] defendant’s claim, no immunity was conferred upon him… Nor was any immunity conferred upon Loya-Castro,” Fitzgerald declared in documents filed with the U.S. District Court in Chicago. But if there was no deal and Zambada made it all up, why was he meeting with the DEA at all and why did the Federal government attempt to block his assertions from being part of the public record?
In 2014, Vicente reached a sugary-sweet plea deal with Federal prosecutors where he confessed to being a key member of the Sinaloa cartel and a “surrogate and logistical coordinator” for his father, and helping smuggle hundreds of tons of cocaine, marijuana, and heroin into the U.S. The deal establishes that Zambada will spend as little as 10 years in prison and surrender $1.37 billion in assets—a number Zambada did not contest; was some of this massive fortune also accumulated with the acquiescence of the U.S. government just like his old partners the Flores brothers? Seems likely. He certainly joined them in receiving a shockingly light prison sentence for his truly gigantic drug dealing activities, especially when you consider that a mere 28 grams of crack cocaine carries a mandatory 5 year prison term; 1 ton of cocaine is about 1 million grams- the Flores twins and Zambada-Niebla moved hundreds of tons.
El Chapo is Captured
Within hours of “El Chapo” Guzman’s 2014 capture in Mexico, U.S. officials announced that they would seek his extradition to face trial in Chicago; if the Sinaloa chief ever does end up on trial in the Windy City, which seems somewhat unlikely, Vicente Zambada will likely be a key witness against him, along with the Flores twins. Ironically, since Zambada already has served 5 years in prison, he would likely be finishing up his own sentence and preparing for release to the free world by the time “El Chapo” showed up in an Illinois Federal courthouse.
Since “El Chapo’s” arrest there doesn’t appear to have been any decline in the availability of cocaine, heroin, or marijuana in the U.S.
Pedro and Margarito Flores are now in the Federal Witness protection program, their immediate family members were given new identities and $300,000 to pay for living expenses.
During the “takedown” of the Flores organization the government seized more than $4 million in drug profits and prosecutors wrote in a court filing that, after an exhaustive investigation, they do “not believe that the Flores brothers are hiding assets.” But rumor on the streets of Chicago are that the twins have millions of dollars hidden around the city with close friends and family, safe from the prying eyes of the Federal government; after studying the case, I believe that the government knew all about the Flores’ brothers sideline dealing and tacitly turned a blind eye to it as an “off-the-books” reward for helping bring down El Chapo and his organization and that they will have far more than $300,000 waiting for them when they return to the free world.