Pedro Flores, star witness against El Chapo, tells judge feds gave his wife immunity against prosecution
The onetime Chicago cocaine kingpin’s wife Vivianna Lopez and his brother’s wife Valerie Gaytan are fighting money-laundering charges. Flores says immunity for them was part of the deal he and his twin brother Margarito Flores, who both grew up in Little Village, were given.
The major Chicago cocaine dealer whose cooperation helped bring down Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera testified Monday in federal court in Chicago that he believed his wife had been given immunity from prosecution for collecting his drug debts.
Pedro Flores, 41, testified on behalf of his wife Vivianna Lopez, who’s fighting money-laundering charges, accused of helping stash millions of dollars in drug money after Flores surrendered to authorities in Mexico in 2008.
In 2015, Flores and his twin brother Margarito Flores — who at one point were the biggest drug dealers in Chicago — were sentenced to 14 years in prison for importing dozens of tons of cocaine and smaller quantities of heroin.
Guzmán, the former head of the Sinaloa cartel and the twins’ main supplier, was sentenced to life in prison after Pedro Flores testified against him in 2018 in New York.
But prosecutors weren’t finished. Last year, Flores’ wife and Margarito Flores’ wife Valerie Gaytan were indicted in Chicago on federal money-laundering charges involving the twins’ drug proceeds. Some of their relatives also were charged.
The two women’s lawyers say they can’t be prosecuted, though, saying they were granted immunity.
Federal authorities say they never made any such deal.
In a hearing Monday via video, Pedro Flores, under questioning from U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly, said the late Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Shakeshaft promised him — in 2008 during a meeting in Monterrey, Mexico — that no one in his family would be charged.
“The reassurances that were made to me from the onset of my cooperation were that my family would be kept out of any kind of prosecution related to my drug activities,” Flores said Monday.
During Guzmán’s trial in 2018, Flores was asked about his wife having helped collect a drug debt of about $5 million near Washington, D.C., after Flores began cooperating with authorities in 2008.
That money was intended to help Lopez, Gaytan and their families pay their living expenses while the twins were in custody, Pedro Flores testified.
In 2010, federal authorities seized a portion of that cash — more than $4 million hidden in a home in Plainfield.
Flores was asked during Guzmán’s trial whether his wife was ever charged in connection with that drug money. Flores answered no and that he thought she’d been granted immunity.
Adam Fels, one of the prosecutors in Guzmán’s case, said Monday that he didn’t think Flores testified untruthfully then.
But, in his testimony Monday, Flores said he didn’t know of any written immunity agreement for his wife. He also acknowledged that prosecutors can’t grant immunity against being charged with a crime they don’t know about or that’s committed in the future.
The indictment last year against Lopez and Gaytan accused them of continuing to help hide and spend their husbands’ drug proceeds long after 2010.
As Lopez and Gaytan keep fighting, some of their family members have pleaded guilty to charges in the money-laundering case.
Lopez’s sister Bianca Finnigan admitted earlier this year that she helped her spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of drug money on airfare, private-school tuition and an exercise bike. Finnigan is scheduled to be sentenced in September.
Armando Flores, the twins’ older brother, has pleaded guilty to stashing about $1 million in drug proceeds under the porch in the back of his Texas home. He later collected another $5 million from the twins’ drug customers, prosecutors say. He’s also awaiting sentencing.
The twins, who grew up in Little Village and learned the drug trade from their father and older brother, imported dozens of tons of cocaine into Chicago, according to prosecutors. Guzmán was their main supplier of cocaine and heroin.
In 2017, Lopez and Gaytan, each the daughter of a Chicago police officer, published the book “Cartel Wives” under assumed names. The book describes their high-flying lives — living in a Mexican mountaintop estate complete with a zoo — until their husbands, facing prosecution, agreed to be informants against Guzmán in 2008.
In January 2015, then-U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo gave the twins relatively light 14-year prison terms for their cooperation but warned they’d live their lives in fear after turning on the Sinaloa cartel. The twins’ father is missing and is presumed to have been killed in Mexico by cartel hitmen.
Pedro Flores was the star witness in Guzmán’s 2018 trial in New York.
The following year, Guzmán was sentenced to life in prison. During the trial, a recording of a phone call was played in which Guzmán greeted Pedro Flores as “amigo” before negotiating a heroin deal with him. It was one of the strongest pieces of evidence presented in the case.