Two Chicago twin brothers who provided unprecedented testimony against one of the world’s most dangerous drug cartels were sentenced to 14 years in prison Tuesday.
In announcing his sentence, Judge Ruben Castillo paid special attention to the sheer volume of drug trafficking for which Pedro and Margarito Flores were accused.
"Even though I am not going to sentence you to life, you are leaving here with a life sentence," said Castillo. "Every time you start your car, you have to wonder will that car start or will explode."
The Flores brothers left a life at the top of the drug world to begin secretly cooperating with federal investigators in 2008. Both men made comments in court thanking the government for allowing them to come forward, and they apologized for their criminal actions.
"Because of the timing of their cooperation, which was at the height of their criminal conduct, they were able to work with law enforcement to record actual co-conspirator conversations and put authorities in a position to seize substantial quantities of narcotics in real time as part of the conspiracy," U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon said.
Margarito Flores told the judge Tuesday he was "ashamed."
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"I'm embarrassed. I'm regretful," he said.
His brother Pedro said he was there to "take full responsibility for my life, all the drug trafficking."
Prosecutors later Tuesday are expected to announce new charges the ruthless Sinaloa cocaine cartel, led by notorious drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera.
While the two brothers faced possible life sentences, the government asked that they be sentenced to a term of 10 to 16 years, calling them "extraordinary witnesses" who provided "unparalleled assistance" in helping to bring down not only "El Chapo," but the leadership of a second cartel and the dismantling of their own Chicago-based cocaine organization.
"The defendants jointly decided to dissolve their criminal enterprise and cooperate with the government," prosecutors wrote in a recent court filing. "Debriefing them took six months of nearly daily sessions."
As a result, 54 defendants were charged in 2009 alone, and prosecutors say some of the cases where the two provided assistance remain so sensitive they still cannot be revealed.
Included in the brothers’ cooperation was the secret recording of more than 70 conversations with cartel members, including two sessions with the elusive “El Chapo” himself. During that time, they enjoyed such favored status with the notorious cartel leader, that they were able to negotiate a reduction in price for their Sinaloa cocaine, from $55,000 to $50,000 per kilo.
Guzman is in custody in Mexico, following his spectacular arrest last year. There are questions whether he will ever be extradited to face charges here in the United States.
Described by the Justice Department as “the most significant drug traffickers in Chicago’s history,” prosecutors said the Flores brothers began their cooperation knowing it put them at grave risk.
“The Flores brothers (and their families) will live the rest of their lives in danger of being killed in retribution,” they wrote. “The barbarism of the cartels is legend, with a special place reserved for those who cooperate.”
As a result, extraordinary security was planned for Tuesday’s sentencing.
Indeed, over the protests of the government, the brothers’ father returned to Mexico in 2009, and within days he was kidnapped and presumed killed.
During their career, the brothers are believed to have been responsible for the importation and distribution of, at minimum, over 70 tons of cocaine, through elaborate transportation schemes which began with planes, boats, and submarines as the drugs left Columbia, entering the United States and making their way to Chicago via a system of stash houses, warehouses, and vehicles with hidden compartments.
“They created massive economies of scale,” prosecutors wrote, noting that here in Chicago the Flores' workers were responsible for the distribution of “ton quantities of cocaine and the laundering of more than $1 billion.”
“The government must consider the extreme danger associated with physically producing the brothers in any venue outside their protected custodial locations,” prosecutors said. As a result, their expected appearance in court Tuesday will mark the first public appearance since their incarceration over six years ago.