Who are the Flores Twins? Chicago brothers who snitched on El Chapo had wealth rivaling 'LeBron James money'
It's been six years since Pedro Flores and Margarito Flores were rewarded relatively easy 14-year prison sentences in exchange for snitching on Sinaloa cartel kingpin Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman Loera. But it seems two of the most significant drug informants in US history are once again under the federal scanner. A court filing last year, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, revealed that the government "no longer" held the view "that all recoverable proceeds were turned over to the government.”
The Flores brothers, known to the cartel as "the Twins", admitted to smuggling at least 1,500 kilograms of Sinaloa cartel cocaine into the United States every month between 2005 and 2008. According to their plea agreements, they sent more than $930 million in “bulk cash” back to the cartel in Mexico. Their lavish lives and their tryst with 'El Chapo' himself are well documented in Season 14 of CNBC's American Greed: Inside El Chapo's Empire, which resumes on Monday, June 7, at 10:00 pm ET/PT.
Sources told the Sun-Times earlier this year that the Flores brothers were free on probation after having served 85% of their 14-year prison terms, including the time they were remanded in custody since their 2008 arrests.
Who are the Flores Twins?
Pedro and Margarito Flores were born into a family of smugglers and raised in Little Village, Chicago. Their father Margarito Flores Sr was convicted of trafficking drugs from Mexico to the United States. In 2009, he did not heed the advice of his sons and federal authorities and traveled to Mexico. His vehicle was found in the Sinaloa desert with a note on the windshield warning his sons to keep quiet, or "you're next." Margarito Flores Sr is now presumed dead.
A federal judge told the Flores Twins at their 2015 sentencing that they would always have to worry about being hunted down by cartel hitmen after their decision to cooperate with prosecutors against El Chapo.
“You and your family will always have to look over your shoulder,” the judge said during sentencing. “Any time you start your car, you’re going to be wondering, is that car going to start or is it going to explode?”
In light of their extraordinary cooperation, prosecutors had asked for an even lighter sentence for the twins. However, the judge gave them 14 years instead of 10 because they distributed a 600-pound heroin shipment in Chicago -- a crime that would normally entail multiple life sentences for key players involved.
“As two of the most well-known cooperating witnesses in the country, the Flores brothers (and their families) will live the rest of their lives in danger of being killed in retribution,” prosecutors wrote to justify lenience in their sentencing recommendation. “The barbarism of the cartels is legend, with a special place reserved for those who cooperate.”
For the Twins, however, the ruling just meant a few extras years in prison and several million dollars in extra profits. Pedro Flores testified against Guzman in 2018 at his Brooklyn trial, resulting in a life prison sentence for Guzman. Margarito Flores said he and his brother met with the Mexican drug lord in the mountains of northern Mexico in October 2008, after agreeing to cooperate with US authorities.
Pedro also gave Chicago prosecutors key evidence against 'El Chapo' -- a recorded phone call of the pair discussing a million-dollar drug deal.
'LeBron James money'
While the U.S. government seized over $4 million from the brothers, their family members were provided $300,000 for living expenses. However, the twins raised eyebrows with their spending while in protective custody, sparking doubts about whether more undeclared money was hidden somewhere. Pedro Flores gifted his wife a brand new $200,000 Bentley, shortly before going to prison. The luxury car was impounded by authorities, and prosecutors called the gift "wholly inappropriate."
Speaking to producers of 'American Greed: Inside El Chapo's Empire,' the Flores brothers' spouses Mia and Olivia Flores described having had access to unimaginable wealth during their stay in Mexico. They recalled how the Twins showered them with expensive gifts, 10-carat diamond wedding rings, and getaways at luxury resorts in Puerto Vallarta. They also reminisced living on a lush, hilly estate with a private farm that had several exotic animals.
"We were living every drug dealer's dream. Our husbands were making millions and millions of dollars -- we're talking 'LeBron James' money," Olivia Flores told producers. "They made $10 million a month in profit and so we lived a very lavish lifestyle. The narco-culture [in Mexico] is much different than the U.S. We were able to live out loud. Our husbands had a warehouse, full of foreign cars. We had a ranch with dancing horses, monkeys, tigers...I mean, we just lived that lifestyle you see on Instagram," she explained.
In their book 'Cartel Wives,' however, the Flores wives noted that their husbands had made a fortune with “dirty money" and "a trail of bodies behind it.” The siblings' annual income in the mid-2000s was estimated at $700 million. Court documents revealed how they would shrink-wrap the cash with food saver machines and hide them inside the homes of their loved ones throughout Chicago and its suburbs.
For the sake of perspective, the Flores operation in Chicago was one of the largest drug busts in US history. When it was broken apart in 2008, the wholesale price for kilos of cocaine shot up from $18,000 to $29,000 overnight as their absence caused an immediate drought in the scene.
Nonetheless, federal authorities noted that the Flores brothers did not personally engage in violence. They purportedly believed it was bad for business and even decided not to retaliate against a Chicago drug dealer who had abducted one of them for ransom.
Some believe that the federal government knew a lot more about the twins' side-dealing and chose to turn a blind eye to it as an "off-the-books” reward for helping nab the notorious Sinaloa cartel boss. The latest developments, however, have cast doubts on that assessment.
Season 14 of CNBC's 'American Greed' continues airing on Monday, June 7, at 10:00 pm ET/PT.