‘Cartel wives’ of Chicago’s twin cocaine kingpins plead guilty to stashing drug cash

Vivianna Lopez and Valerie Gaytan, wives of Pedro and Margarito Flores, admitted to involvement in a conspiracy to launder millions from their husbands’ drug trafficking business after the men were taken into federal custody.

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Vivianna Lopez, left, and Valerie Gaytan during their appearance on the CNBC show “American Greed” in 2021. The women have pleaded guilty to participating in a money-laundering conspiracy.

Vivianna Lopez, left, and Valerie Gaytan during their appearance on the CNBC show “American Greed” in 2021.

CNBC

The wives of Chicago’s most prolific cocaine dealers have pleaded guilty to stashing millions of dollars in drug proceeds after their husbands were arrested in 2008.

On Thursday, Vivianna Lopez, 42, pleaded guilty to participating in a money-laundering conspiracy. Her sister-in-law, Valerie Gaytan, 47, pleaded guilty to the same charge last week.

Lopez is the wife of Pedro Flores, and Gaytan is the wife of Margarito Flores.

The Flores twins, who grew up in Little Village, were convicted of importing tons of cocaine into Chicago, New York, Cincinnati, Detroit, Vancouver and other North American cities from 2005 to 2008.

Their cooperation with the government was key to the conviction of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, who ran the Sinaloa cartel.

Pedro and Margarito Flores, who pleaded guilty to smuggling 1,500 to 2,000 kilograms of cocaine to Chicago and other U.S. cities every month.

Pedro and Margarito Flores pleaded guilty to smuggling 1,500 to 2,000 kilograms of cocaine to Chicago and other North American cities every month from 2005 to 2008.

Sun-Times file

For their cooperation, the twins were rewarded in 2015 with relatively light 14-year prison sentences, which they have served. U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo said they would always be looking over their shoulders for El Chapo’s sicarios — or assassins.

After the twins were taken into custody in 2008, their wives used the drug money they stashed away to pay for a lavish lifestyle, including expensive trips and luxury cars, prosecutors said. A tight circle of family members helped the wives access the money when they needed it.

In 2010, Gaytan turned over $4.2 million in drug proceeds to the government, but she didn’t hand over everything, prosecutors said.

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In her written guilty plea on April 14, Gaytan admitted sending $2.3 million in cash hidden in furniture to her brother-in-law Armando Flores’ home in Austin, Texas. He stashed the money under his back porch and doled it out to Gaytan in monthly $9,000 payments in exchange for a fee, the plea agreement said.

Prosecutors said Gaytan faces more than 11 years in prison under sentencing guidelines. Her attorney disputed that, saying the same guidelines call for a sentence of more than seven years in prison.

According to Lopez’s guilty plea Thursday, drug proceeds available to her were stored in Chicago, but she didn’t live here.

Her sister and aunt, who were in the Chicago area, sent money to her in the mail.

They sent money orders to cover Lopez’s rent, travel, tuition for her kids and even cash for her husband in prison.

Lopez’s sister Bianca Finnigan also deposited some of the drug proceeds in Lopez’s personal bank account, according to the plea agreement. Lopez admitted she bought a $3,100 exercise bike with some of the money.

The government said Lopez was accountable for more than $869,000 in the money-laundering scheme. She faces at least nine years in prison under sentencing guidelines, prosecutors said.

Gaytan and Lopez both agreed to the government’s forfeiture request of more than $500,000.

Finnigan and Armando Flores have pleaded guilty to related charges and are also awaiting sentencing.

Last year, the twins’ wives suffered a major setback in court when U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly ruled they didn’t have immunity from prosecution.

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera in a 1993 arrest photo in Mexico.

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera in a 1993 arrest photo in Mexico.

AP

The expansive drug case against El Chapo is continuing to play out in Chicago, where last week four of his sons were charged in federal court with taking over the Sinaloa cartel and continuing to transport huge quantities of drugs to Chicago and other cities.

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