They’ve been hidden in protective custody for more than six years.
Now the twins who risked their lives to snitch on Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman are finally due to show their faces in a Chicago courtroom.
And authorities are preparing heightened security around the Dirksen Federal Courthouse Tuesday for the sentencing of Pedro and Margarito Flores — the brothers who were raised in Little Village and rose with the Sinaloa cartel’s help from street-level cocaine dealing to build a national wholesale narcotics business worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Heralded as two of the most significant informants ever to side with the government in a U.S. drug case, the 33-year-old twins have been zealously guarded in custody by the feds. Since they gave themselves up in 2008, their whereabouts has been kept secret, with even the identity of their lawyers hidden from the public record.
The precautions aren’t just for show against such wealthy and violent foes, the feds say. Cartel members in 2010 considered using a helicopter to help high-ranking Sinaloa boss Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla escape from the roof of the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center, they allege.
And a year before that, the twins’ father, Margarito Flores Sr., was kidnapped and is presumed dead. A note left for his sons on the windshield of his abandoned car read, “Shut up or we are going to send you his head.”
The twins, though, have kept talking, providing prosecutors and the Drug Enforcement Administration with a treasuretrove of information that led to the indictment of dozens of cartel-connected figures up to and including “El Chapo” himself.
They’d risen to prominence after fleeing to Mexico from the U.S. in 2004, using Chicago as a hub for a national distribution system to move the Sinaloa cartel’s drugs by the ton in trains and trucks.
Between them, they met in person with Guzman at his secret mountain lair at least twice to do deals, including a meeting in 2008 at which “El Chapo” 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.
They even snared him in a secretly recorded telephone call.
Though Guzman — at one time the world’s most wanted felon — has remained in Mexican custody since his arrest last year and may never be extradited to face U.S. justice, several of his top lieutenants are serving lengthy sentences in American prisons thanks to the twins’ cooperation.
Earlier this month, federal prosecutors in San Diego announced a series of new indictments connected to the sprawling Sinaloa investigation the brothers helped spawn. Further cases are expected to be filed in Chicago Tuesday.
In return for that help, and to encourage witnesses to come forward in future cases, the government is recommending U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo sentence the Flores brothers to just 10 years in prison, a tiny fraction of the massive sentences their former allies were handed.
If Castillo agrees, the six years the brothers have already served while awaiting sentencing means that, with good behavior, they could be released in as little as two years.
That isn’t the only favor the feds have done the Flores brothers. Though the twins were caught trying to squirrel away millions of dollars of drug money after they “flipped” and agreed to cooperate with the government — even buying Pedro Flores’ wife a Bentley while they were in custody — prosecutors took the extremely rare step of allowing them to keep $300,000 to pay for lawyers and security.
Still, the government says, the brothers and their families will never truly be free, thanks to “the ever-present fear of retribution that will exist, regardless of what steps are taken to ensure their protection.
“That the Flores brothers overcame this fear and put themselves in a position to gather the extraordinary evidence they did is yet another exceptional aspect of their cooperation that serves to offset their criminal liability.”