Republished by Lucio from The Chicago Tribune written by Jason Meisner
Minutes ago, the Flores twins were sentenced to 14 years each
Security at sentencing in the federal courtroom in Chicago was tight, extra security checks outside courtroom doors and a bomb-sniffing dog sweeping for explosives. For their security, neither of the twins' attorneys was named in court.
Stated Judge Castillo when handing down the sentence;
"Even though I am not going to sentence you to life, you are leaving here with a life sentence. Each time you start your car (when they are released), you are going to be wondering, is it going to start, or will it explode."
Prosecutors had requested a sentence of 10 years. Noting, because of the twins' cooperation they were able to issue indictments of Guzman and more than 50 others. (3 new names were added today)
Castillo said the twins were the most significant traffickers ever in his court. Adding he had never seen drug traffickers at the height of their power and wealth, come forward to offer to assist the government and provide information, as the Flores brothers had.
And that day of freedom is much sooner than people think. 14 years, with 6 years served, and 2 years factored in for "good behavior, 54 days each year is the max allowed, these deductions mean the brothers could be released in 6 years. In the first video, the federal prosecutor talks about the case and sentencing, including the cooperation by the brothers, and the wiretapping of their conversations with Chapo.
Today was the first public appearance of the brothers in 6 years.The American born twins appeared very uneasy walking to the podium to speak.
"I'm ashamed. I'm embarrassed. I'm regretful," Margarito said. “I’ve put my family in harm’s way, and I will never forgive myself, there is no excuse."
Pedro seemed on the verge of breaking down as he said, "I wanted to thank the United States (and federal agents) ... for allowing the opportunity not to spend my life in prison.”[Lucio]
For a couple of drug dealers from Chicago's West Side, twin brothers Pedro and Margarito Flores had hit the big time by November 2008, negotiating a heroin deal over the phone in Mexico with none other than Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the notorious Sinaloa cartel boss who at the time was the most wanted man in the world.
Pedro did the talking, convincing Guzman to drop the price on a freshly delivered shipment of heroin and also arranging a new deal that would bring about 40 kilograms a month of the cartel's narcotics into the Chicago area, court records show. Half an hour later, Flores' cellphone rang again. El Chapo handed his phone to an underling who gave instructions on how and where to make the $1 million cash payment.
What Guzman couldn't have fathomed was that U.S. federal agents were listening in on the calls that night. The heroin had been picked up in Chicago by an undercover officer posing as a courier. The Flores brothers had flipped.
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Six years after they became arguably the most important informants in the U.S. government's decades long war on drugs, Pedro and Margarito Flores will make their first court appearance Tuesday for their sentencing at the federal courthouse in Chicago amid heightened security.
Prosecutors plan to ask U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo for as little as 10 years behind bars for the twins, who pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy in 2012 and have been in the witness protection program. It's an extraordinary break from what almost certainly would have been a life sentence given the staggering amount of drugs and money the Flores brothers helped smuggle — at least 71 tons of cocaine and heroin and nearly $2 billion in cash, according to one government estimate.
Prosecutors said in court papers the light sentence was earned because of the danger the twins put themselves in through undercover work that eventually led to indictments against Guzman, his top Sinaloa cartel leaders, and dozens of other drug wholesalers and middlemen from Chicago to Mexico.
Born and raised in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood, the 34-year-old twins have been held in secret locations for more than six years. Their immediate family members were given new identities and set up with $300,000 to pay for living expenses for the foreseeable future. Even when they are released from custody, the brothers' lives will never be the same, prosecutors said.
"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. "The barbarism of the cartels is legend, with a special place reserved for those who cooperate."
The concerns over possible attempts at retribution extend to the brothers' Chicago attorney, whose identity has been kept secret for safety reasons in an extraordinary step. It's unclear whether the attorney will even be in court Tuesday for the sentencing. Extra metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs are expected to add another layer of security at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.
The Flores brothers' cooperation has already had real repercussions. Shortly after word got out that the brothers were in DEA custody, their father, Margarito Flores Sr., returned to Mexico against his sons' wishes and despite stern warnings from their government handlers, according to prosecutors.
Within days, the father was kidnapped and presumed to be murdered, the filing said. A note found at the scene of the kidnapping said his sons were next.
Some of the brothers' double-dealing was the stuff of movies. The Flores brothers met with cartel leaders in mountaintop compounds, captured conversations with Guzman's lieutenants with a voice recorder hidden in a coat pocket and even helped prosecutors by cutting deals with a rival faction of the cartel that would have meant certain death if discovered by either side, court records show.
"It was incredibly daring," said Joseph Lopez, a Chicago attorney who has represented many cartel clients. "These guys were allegedly able to get Chapo on tape talking about heroin. He trusted them that much."
The Flores brothers' sentencing marks the end of one of the more remarkable stories of Chicago's cut-throat drug underworld, where in a few short years the twins rose through the ranks of the Latin Kings street gang to eventually run a drug distribution ring that shipped thousands of pounds of narcotics to wholesale customers in New York, Washington, Cincinnati and other cities.
By the time they flipped in 2008 and agreed to dismantle their operation, the twins had reached "the highest echelons of the cartel world," prosecutors said.
They built their mini-empire using a system of couriers and henchmen whom they trusted to drive loads in vehicles outfitted with secret compartments and hydraulic trap doors, court records show. The drugs were often picked up in broad daylight, in supermarket parking lots and outside of South Loop dollar stores, and kept in innocuous-looking stash houses from Chicago to Aurora. Through it all, the Floreses kept a low profile. Their associates mostly had clean records, and they were not known for the rampant violence that many associate with street-level dealing.
Their main supplier was Guzman, whose vast operations included a fleet of 747 jets that had all the seats removed, the brothers said in sworn statements to a federal grand jury.
According to their statements, Guzman would load the planes with clothes and other goods and fly bogus "humanitarian" missions to South America. On the return trip to Mexico City, the brothers said, the planes would be packed with as much as 12,000 kilograms — about 14 tons — of cocaine that was unloaded and driven out of the airport with the help of corrupt officials.
The brothers said Guzman's various lieutenants helped the cartel coordinate shipments of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico using submarines, speedboats and amphibious vessels to avoid law enforcement at sea.
In 2007, the brothers agreed to invest $600,000 with Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez, Guzman's boyhood friend, to open a furniture exporting company that would act as a front to ship cocaine by rail, with loads hidden behind false walls in the boxcars, according to the statements. Vasquez-Hernandez, a trusted lieutenant of El Chapo and one of the main contacts between the cartel and the Flores twins, pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy and was sentenced in November to 22 years in prison.
Their testimony led to sweeping indictments in 2009 against 54 defendants, including Guzman, who remained a fugitive until his sensational arrest in Mexico last February. It's unclear whether he'll ever be extradited to face charges in the U.S., where he is also under indictment in New York and Texas.
The Floreses' cooperation also led to the flipping of another key witness, Sinaloa underboss Vincente Zambada-Niebla, who in 2013 secretly pleaded guilty to acting as the key coordinator of a billion-dollar cocaine and heroin operation on behalf of a faction of the cartel run by his father, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada. Zambada-Niebla is awaiting sentencing.
At the same time they were cooperating against the cartel, the Flores twins also assisted in the dismantling of their organization in 2009, creating a highly unusual situation where the bosses were cooperating against underlings. The arrests occurred after the Floreses were flown back to the U.S. by the Drug Enforcement Administration and instructed to set up a series of phony transactions to catch the couriers in the act.
"They set up their own customers," Lopez said.
As those cases moved forward, many defense attorneys questioned why the government allowed the twins to continue to import massive amounts of narcotics into the U.S. while their cooperation was ongoing.
At least one shipment — a 276-kilogram load of cocaine that was part of a deal with Vasquez-Hernandez — made it to Chicago and was distributed on the streets without the knowledge of federal investigators. The brothers later told prosecutors they needed the proceeds from the sale to avoid falling behind on payments to the cartel, which would have made their continued cooperation impossible, court records show.
There were also questions of whether the feds were willing to look the other way on alleged violence committed by the Flores brothers, including two killings.
One involved the cartel-related slaying of Guadalupe Ledesma in Mexico. A cooperating witness had told investigators the Flores brothers were "directly responsible" for the killing, prosecutors said. That information was never verified, however, and several others were eventually convicted of murder in Mexico without implicating the brothers.
Meanwhile, there were accusations that the Flores twins were still accumulating wealth while they were cooperating. In court papers, prosecutors acknowledged that some of their flamboyant purchases were "wholly inappropriate" for informants living in protective custody, including a Bentley that was given to Pedro Flores' wife as a gift. There were rumors the brothers had buried millions of dollars in drug proceeds in backyards in Chicago and other locations.
In all, the government seized more than $4 million in drug proceeds from the Flores twins, and prosecutors wrote in a court filing that after an exhaustive investigation they do "not believe that the Flores brothers are hiding assets."
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