Former Chicago prosecutor Thomas Shakeshaft met secretly with Pedro Flores a decade ago in Mexico when the U.S. government was exploring whether the drug trafficker and his twin brother would cooperate against the reputed leader of the Sinaloa cartel.
Pedro Flores and his brother Margarito Flores, the biggest drug traffickers in Chicago, agreed to snitch on the kingpin, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, after their 2008 meeting in a hotel in Monterrey. And on Tuesday, Shakeshaft breathed a sign of relief after his top witness took the stand in New York to testify against El Chapo.
“I never knew when I started this case that our No. 1 job was to keep these guys alive,” Shakeshaft, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago, said of the Flores twins.
Shakeshaft was the lead prosecutor in a sweeping case the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago brought against El Chapo and his organization in 2009. He spent more than a year interviewing the Flores brothers about their deep knowledge of El Chapo, whom they met at his mountaintop lair in Mexico.
Flores, 37, was the first prosecution witness to give a detailed look at the Sinaloa cartel’s U.S. drug distribution system. Flores’ testimony is expected to continue this week.
Pedro and Margarito Flores grew up in Chicago’s Little Village but moved to Mexico, where they shipped tons of drugs back to Chicago. They also secretly recorded more than 70 conversations with El Chapo for the government. In the most important one, on Nov. 15, 2008, Pedro Flores was bargaining with the kingpin over the price of 20 kilograms of heroin.
“That price is fine,” El Chapo finally said, according to a government transcript of the conversation.
In 2015, the Flores brothers were sentenced to 14 years in prison — a sweetheart deal, to be sure.
But Chief U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo warned they’d always have to look over their shoulders for El Chapo’s sicarios — hit men. It was no idle warning: Prosecutors believe the Sinaloa cartel assassinated the twins’ father in Mexico because of their cooperation with prosecutors.
Even though Drug Enforcement Administration officials and federal prosecutors in Chicago brought perhaps the most significant case in the United States against El Chapo, that indictment was folded into the trial that’s now playing out in Brooklyn under tight security.
Over the past weeks, some stunning revelations have emerged, such as hints that millions of dollars in bribes were paid to former presidents of Mexico by Sinaloa cartel operatives.
Much of Pedro Flores’ testimony Tuesday wasn’t surprising. Most of what he said has been made public through court documents.
Still, the drama was spellbinding in court as he came face to face with El Chapo.
Flores talked about bringing El Chapo a pair of .50-caliber gold-plated handguns as a gift, for which he drew the disapproval of the kingpin because they weighed about 15 pounds each, which wasn’t practical for everyday use.
At their mountaintop meeting, El Chapo also made fun of the cut-off shorts Flores was wearing.
Flores also testified about seeing a naked man chained to a tree on the drive up to El Chapo’s compound.
El Chapo could receive a life sentence if convicted.
“I don’t know what Pete thinks about me but I am gratified he and his family lived to see the day that justice was done,” Shakeshaft said of Pedro Flores.
“He’s alive, his family is alive, and, regardless of what he says, which is pretty damning, his mere presence in a courtroom across from that man — he called him ‘The Man’ — means that American justice prevailed today.”
Contributing: USA Today
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