That was after Pedro Flores and Margarito Flores had surrendered to federal authorities more than a decade ago in a case linked to Sinaloa cartel drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera.
Armando Flores, 53, pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court in Chicago to participating in a money-laundering conspiracy.
Flores’ younger twin brothers — whose cocaine and heroin trafficking business was supplied by El Chapo — ended up agreeing to help authorities bring down the Sinaloa cartel kingpin.
Pedro Flores (left) and his twin brother Margarito Flores, once Chicago’s biggest drug traffickers, rose from street-level Chicago drug dealers to the top of the cartel world — and, when they got caught, helped bring down Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Lo (U.S. Marshals Service)
After the twins, who grew up on the Southwest Side and are now 40, agreed to cooperate with investigators in 2008 and were taken into federal custody, Armando Flores, of Round Rock, Texas, near Austin, got busy hiding their drug cash, collecting debts from the twins’ customers and dispersing the money to their family members for a fee, he said during a virtual court hearing.
Armando Flores was living with his brothers in Mexico when they surrendered in 2008 and also had agreed to cooperate with federal authorities, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Erskine.
In December 2008, the three brothers and their families left Mexico for the United States, Erskine said.
Armando Flores hid about $300,000 in a trailer he took across the border and in early 2009, he collected another $760,000 in drug cash from associates of the twins in Los Angeles, Erskine said.
Sinaloa cartel drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera.
"He hid most of these drug proceeds by burying the cash underneath the porch on the back of his home," the prosecutor said.
Most of that money ended up being spent, Erskine said.
Later, Armando Flores arranged to collect debts from the twins’ customers. One pickup was for $2.9 million and another for $1.9 million, Erskine said.
He said Armando Flores and Valerie Gaytan, who’s Margarito Flores’ wife, picked up the $1.9 million, which was stashed in a car parked in a garage.
Later, around 2010, Gaytan visited Armando Flores’ home near Austin around the time that a U-Haul truck rolled up carrying secondhand furniture that Erskine said had about $2.3 million hidden inside it.
Armando Flores again buried the cash under his porch, Erskine said.
He said Flores regularly mailed cash to Gaytan and her family — usually $9,000 per delivery — and would exchange "dirty" low-denomination bills for $100 bills at a gas station currency exchange where someone he knew worked.
In 1999, Armando Flores pleaded guilty in Chicago to federal narcotics trafficking charges and was sentenced to five years in prison, court records show.
On Thursday, he told U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly he was working as a Lyft driver before he was arrested about 10 months ago. He’s been in federal custody ever since. His sentencing date hasn’t been set.
The twins, who grew up in Little Village, are in witness protection after serving prison terms for smuggling at least 71 tons of drugs, mostly cocaine but also heroin.
In exchange for cooperating in the case against Guzmán, they were given relatively lenient sentences of 14 years. At their 2015 sentencing, the judge warned they would need to be looking over their shoulders for Guzmán’s hit men.
Pedro Flores was the star witness in Guzmán’s 2018 trial in New York.
The following year, Guzmán was sentenced to life in prison.
During his trial, a recording of a phone call was played in which El Chapo greeted Pedro Flores as "amigo" before negotiating a heroin deal with him.
Other defendants charged with Armando Flores in the money-laundering case are Gaytan, Pedro Flores’ wife Vivianna Lopez, Laura Lopez of Chicago, who is an aunt of Vivianna Lopez, and Bianca Finnigan of Sycamore, who is Vivianna Lopez’s sister. They’re all free on bail while awaiting trial.
Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
The twins weren’t charged in the money-laundering case.
Prosecutors are seeking a $504,858 judgment against the twins’ wives, who are accused, along with other family members, of hiding and spending the twins’ drug money.
Authorities have said the wives spent it on trips to Europe, the Caribbean and Las Vegas, private schools for their kids and an exercise bike.
That money was separate from $300,000 the government gave the twins’ family members for living expenses out of $4 million the federal Drug Enforcement Administration had seized from the brothers, authorities said.