Former Chicago drug trafficker testifies in El Chapo trial
NEW YORK — Identical twin brothers from Chicago made a fortune by distributing nearly 40 tons (36 metric tons) of cocaine worth $800 million for Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman before signing up as cooperators who spied on the cartel, one of the them testified Tuesday at a U.S. trial.
Pedro Flores told the jury that the brothers had face-to-face meetings with Guzman and another Sinaloa cartel leader, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, in Mexico in 2005 to begin negotiations for the cartel to use the pair’s successful drug-dealing network covering Chicago, New York, Detroit and other large cities.
“You guys have my respect,” he quoted Zambada as saying. “Imagine if you guys were triplets.”
When Flores wore shorts to his first sit-down with Guzman — or “The Man,” as he referred to him — at a mountainside hideout, the kingpin joked about why “with all that money, I couldn’t afford the rest of the pants,” he said.
Flores, 37, is the first American in a parade of cooperators testifying against Guzman at his drug-trafficking trial in federal court in Brooklyn. Defense lawyers have labeled the witnesses as shady criminals willing to say anything to get breaks in their own cases.
In his first day on the witness stand Tuesday, Flores said he got his start as a young boy working as a translator in his father’s drug-dealing operation. He and his brother, Margarito, eventually took over and grew it into a multimillion-dollar enterprise that came with occupational hazards, he said.
After learning they would be charged in the U.S., the brothers relocated to Mexico in 2004 and kept dealing from afar as fugitives, Flores said. He described having a falling out with a Mexican drug dealer over a debt — a feud that resulted in him being kidnapped by captors who kept him blindfolded, handcuffed and unfed.
After two weeks, he was released to his brother, apparently with the help of Guzman. His brother’s first words to him, he said, were that he smelled bad and “I met Chapo.”
Flores said the dangers of the violent drug trade made him fear for his family, leading to a decision to contract Drug Enforcement Administration agents and begin cooperating by making secret recordings of Guzman and others, he said. A bloody civil war within the cartel meant “we were in a lose-lose situation,” he said, “because we had to choose a side.”
Flores, who eventually pleaded guilty and is serving a 14-year prison term, is to resume testifying Wednesday.