Chicago Twins’ Cooperation Against Sinaloa Cartel Yields 14-Year Prison Terms; New Charges Target Cartel’s Top Echelon
Twin brothers Pedro and Margarito Flores, regarded as Chicago’s most significant drug traffickers who rose from street level dealers to the highest echelons of the Mexico-based Sinaloa Cartel and a rival cartel before they began providing unparalleled cooperation to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), were each sentenced today to 14 years in federal prison. The sentencing marked the Flores brothers’ first public court appearance since they entered protective federal custody in 2008. Their August 2012 guilty pleas to a narcotics distribution conspiracy were unsealed in November 2014.
Also today, federal law enforcement officials announced the unsealing of an expanded eighth superseding indictment in the case in which the Flores brothers and leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel were initially indicted here in 2009. The eighth superseding indictment and three separate new indictments announced today, add significant new defendants, including two alleged cartel money laundering associates who were arrested in the United States and extend the government’s efforts in Chicago and elsewhere to dismantle the Sinaloa Cartel under Joaquin Guzman Loera, 60, also known as “Chapo,” and Ismael Zambada Garcia, 67, aka “Mayo.”
“The persistent determination of DEA special agents and leadership in Chicago, coupled with the efforts of those in DEA offices worldwide, is having a significant impact on the global operations of the Sinaloa Cartel,” said U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon of the Northern District of Illinois. “This case put an end to the Flores brothers’ Chicago hub for transshipment of cartel narcotics nationwide. Our investigation and prosecution of cartel members is continuing,”
“The extraordinary work in this investigation continues,” said Special Agent in Charge Dennis A. Wichern of the Chicago Field Division of the DEA. “Agents, investigators, prosecutors and our worldwide law enforcement partners continue to expand this investigation against members of the Sinaloa Cartel ― working to bring them to justice and in doing so ― helping to make the great city of Chicago a safer place.”
“IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to working together with the DEA and the United States Attorney’s Office to fight the war on drugs,” said Special Agent in Charge James C. Lee of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division (IRS CI) in Chicago. “IRS CI brings, and will continue to bring, its financial expertise to disrupt and dismantle the Sinaloa Cartel’s drug trafficking organization.”
Flores Brothers Sentencing
In sentencing of the 33-year-old Flores brothers, U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo said that but for the Flores brothers’ cooperation, he would have imposed a life sentence and noted that because of the peril their ongoing cooperation poses to them and their families, they effectively “are going to leave here with a life sentence.” If the city of Chicago had walls, Judge Castillo said the brothers’ operation “devastated the walls of this city,” adding that their operation “became just a highway of drugs into this city.”
But, Judge Castillo added, “it is never too late to cooperate,” which is what earned the Flores brothers a significant discount in their sentences.
Judge Castillo ordered the Flores brothers to forfeit more than $3.66 million that was seized from them and a sport utility vehicle. In addition, more than $400,000 worth of assorted jewelry, several luxury automobiles and smaller amounts of cash and electronics equipment were seized and forfeited in administrative proceedings by the DEA. The brothers left behind millions of dollars in additional assets in Mexico after they began cooperating.
The judge also placed each of the brothers on court supervision for five years when they are released from prison after serving at least 85 percent of their sentences.
Between 2005 and 2008, the Flores brothers and their crew operated a Chicago-based wholesale distribution cell for the Sinaloa Cartel and a rival drug trafficking organization controlled by Arturo Beltran Leyva, receiving on average 1,500 to 2,000 kilograms of cocaine per month. Approximately half of this cocaine was distributed to the Flores’ customers in the Chicago area, while the other half was distributed to customers in Columbus, Cincinnati, Detroit, Milwaukee, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Vancouver, among other cities. In total, the brothers admitted to facilitating the transfer of approximately $1.8 billion of drug proceeds from the United States to Mexico, primarily through bulk cash smuggling.
At great personal risk to themselves and their families, the Flores brothers began cooperating with the government in October 2008 and recorded conversations, including two directly with Chapo Guzman. Their cooperation resulted in indictments against leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel and the Beltran Leyva organization, as well as the complete dismantling of the brothers’ own Chicago-based criminal enterprise. In late 2008 alone, their cooperation facilitated approximately a dozen seizures in the Chicago area totaling hundreds of kilograms of cocaine and heroin and more than $15 million in cash, as well as the seizure of more than 1,600 kilograms of cocaine in the Los Angeles area that was bound for Chicago.
Further cooperation by the Flores brothers and members of their dismantled crew resulted in the convictions of more than a dozen of their high-level customers who received on average 50 to 100 kilos of cocaine per month.
“While not as high-profile as the cartel figures, the successful prosecution of these defendants made a very real difference in combating the scourge of drug trafficking that fuels so much violence and the destruction of communities in Chicago,” said the prosecutors in recommending a sentence at or near the low end of the agreed 10- to 16-year sentencing range.
“The Flores brothers (and their families) will live the rest of their lives in danger of being killed in retribution,” prosecutors stated in a sentencing memo. “The barbarism of the cartels is legend, with a special place reserved for those who cooperate.”
In 2009, the brothers’ father was kidnapped and presumed killed when he reentered Mexico despite the U.S. government warning him not to do so.
The Primary ― Eighth Superseding ― Indictment
The eighth superseding indictment unsealed today charges a total of nine defendants, including Chapo Guzman, Mayo Zambada and Guzman’s son, Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar, 31, aka “Alfredillo” and “Jags,” each of whom was among the initial group of co-defendants in the original indictment in 2009. Zambada and Salazar are fugitives, while Guzman remains in Mexican custody following his arrest last February.
Co-defendant, Jesus Raul Beltran Leon, 31, aka “Trevol” and “Chuy Raul,” was arrested in Mexico this past November and remains in Mexican custody. The remaining co-defendants, all fugitives, Heriberto Zazueta Godoy, 54, aka “Capi Beto,” Victor Manuel Felix Beltran, 27, aka “Lic Vicc,” Hector Miguel Valencia Ortega, 33, aka “Mv,” Jorge Mario Valenzuela Verdugo, 32, aka “Choclos” and Guadalupe Fernandez Valencia, 54, aka “Don Julio” and “Julia.”
This indictment alleges that all nine defendants conspired between May 2005 and December 2014, when the indictment was returned under seal, to import and distribute narcotics and to commit money laundering. They allegedly conspired to smuggle large quantities of cocaine from Central and South America, as well as heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana from Mexico to the United States and through Chicago for distribution nationwide. The indictment seeks forfeiture of $2 billion.
The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control today announced the designation of Felix Beltran, who is Salazar’s brother-in-law, pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, freezing all of his assets in the U.S. or in the control of U.S. persons and generally prohibiting any U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with him. A second designation was announced today against Alfonso Limon Sanchez, an alleged Sinaloa Cartel associate under federal indictment with Zambada and others in San Diego. Other alleged cartel leaders, including Chicago defendants Guzman, Zambada, Salazar and Godoy, were previously designated drug kingpins.
Charges brought in earlier versions of this primary indictment remain pending against three additional co-defendants: Felipe Cabrera Sarabia, 44, who is in custody in Mexico; German Olivares, age unknown and a fugitive; and Edgar Manuel Valencia Ortega, 27, aka “Fox,” and Hector Miguel Valencia Ortega’s brother, who was arrested last year in the United States and is in federal custody in Chicago. His next court date is Feb. 19, 2015 for a status hearing.
In addition to the Flores brothers, Alfredo Vasquez Hernandez, 59, pleaded guilty and was sentenced last November to 22 years in prison. Two other co-defendants, Mayo Zambada’s son, Vicente Zambada Niebla, 39, and Tomas Arevalo Renteria, 45, have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing in Chicago. Altogether, 18 defendants have been charged in the primary case in Chicago.
Three New Indictments
Those 18 are among a total of 62 defendants, most of whom have been convicted and sentenced, who were indicted in nearly two dozen related cases in Chicago since 2009. Two new defendants, Alvaro Anguiano Hernandez, 38, aka “Panda,” and Jorge Martin Torres, 38, were arrested separately in the U.S. in November and are facing separate indictments here alleging they were high-level money laundering associates of the Sinaloa Cartel and participated in money laundering conspiracies. Anguiano Hernandez’s indictment seeks forfeiture of $950,000.
Torres allegedly conspired to launder in excess of $300,000 of drug proceeds from Mexico to the United States to purchase, refurbish, and transfer from Ohio to Mexico, a 1982 Cessna Turbo 210 to promote the cartel’s alleged narcotics conspiracy. His indictment seeks forfeiture of $1 million.
A third separate indictment announced today charges Venancio Covarrubias, 26, aka “Benny,” of Elgin, who was arrested last October, with being a high-level cartel customer in the Chicago area. In September 2013, law enforcement, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in Laredo, Texas, seized 159 kilograms of cocaine that was allegedly destined for a warehouse in Elgin leased by Covarrubias. The cocaine, wrapped in 118 brick-shaped packages, was hidden in a tractor-trailer containing a shipment of fresh tomatoes from a fictitious Mexican business called Tadeo Produce. The charges allege that during the prior year, Covarrubias wire transferred drug proceeds to Tadeo Produce while receiving narcotics disguised as tomato shipments. His indictment seeks forfeiture of $2.89 million.
The money laundering conspiracy charges against Anguiano Hernandez, Torres and Covarrubias carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a $500,000 fine, or an alternate fine totaling twice the amount of the funds involved in illegal activity. The narcotics importation and distribution conspiracy charges against Covarrubias and each defendant in the primary indictment carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years to a maximum of life in prison and a $10 million fine. If convicted, the court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory United States sentencing guidelines. The defendants against whom charges are pending are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Total Seizures Since 2008
Overall, the Chicago-based investigation of the Sinaloa Cartel has resulted in seizures of approximately $30.8 million, approximately 11 tons of cocaine, 265 kilograms of methamphetamine and 78 kilograms of heroin. Law Enforcement in Chicago has worked closely with federal agents and prosecutors in San Diego to target the senior leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel. This partnership yielded the prosecutions here as well as 14 indictments announced this month in San Diego against 60 alleged Sinaloa leaders, lieutenants and associates, including Zambada, two of his four sons and another of Guzman’s sons.
The investigation in Chicago has been led by the DEA, joined by the IRS Criminal Investigation Division and the Chicago Police Department. Also assisting were DEA offices worldwide, including in Los Angeles, San Diego, Mexico City and its El Paso Intelligence Center, the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force the Chicago High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force, the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in San Diego, Springfield, Illinois and Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Police Department, the Chicago and Peoria offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Chicago office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department, suburban police departments in Calumet City, Evergreen Park, Oak Park, Palos Heights and the Beverly Hills Police Department. The investigation was assisted by agents and analysts of the Justice Department Criminal Division’s Special Operations Division, the attorneys from the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section and Office of International Affairs.
The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael J. Ferrara, Erika Csicsila, Naana Frimpong, Georgia Alexakis, Kathryn Malizia and Thomas D. Shakeshaft.