How two American drug runners took down El Chapo

TO OUR kids' friends, we're just average soccer mums.

In truth, we're the wives of identical twin brothers who are almost single-handedly responsible for the meteoric rise of narcotics in the United States over the last two decades.

From 1998 to 2008, our husbands, Pedro and Margarito Flores, Jr., grew to become high-level traffickers who blazed a drug-riddled trail across the Mexican border, dramatically increasing the volume of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and marijuana passing into the United States, travelling through their hub in Chicago, and then fanning out to almost a dozen major cities across the United States and Canada.

In 2008, at the height of their criminal enterprise, Peter and Junior, as we know them and will call them in this book, made the difficult and life-changing decision to co-operate with the federal government, become informants, and ultimately turn themselves in.

This was a family decision, made by the four of us while sitting at the kitchen table one night, and we did it to spare our children from the horrors of the recent Mexican drug wars, with their torture, murder, and complete destruction of far too many families and communities.

More than that, we needed to stop the cycle of crime that our husbands were born into; we didn't want our children to see this as their future. We were never drug users, and our husbands weren't - and never had been - proud of their day-to-day work.

They did it only because it was the only life they'd ever known. In their family, drugs weren't just normal and accepted, they were the trade their father taught them. Even in America - the supposed land of opportunity - when you're poor, uneducated, and Mexican, drug dealing is often thought to be the only way up.

After Peter and Junior became informants and told the US Attorney's office every detail of their criminal career, they spent almost all of 2008 secretly recording conversations with the highest-level cartel members in Mexico, including notorious narcocriminal Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán.

Their unprecedented co-operation helped secure the indictments of sixty-nine major drug figures, from the architects of border-crossing tunnels to the bosses of several cartels, who practically ran Mexico. Additionally, they assisted in eleven superseding indictments that netted over one hundred people.

Today, not all of these people are in jail, but with our husbands' testimony, they soon will be. And some of the worst of the worst are dead, killed by the mouths they once helped feed.

Guzman is wanted in Arizona, California, Texas, Illinois, New York, Florida and New Hampshire on a range of charges, including criminal conspiracy, racketeering and money laundering.
Guzman is wanted in Arizona, California, Texas, Illinois, New York, Florida and New Hampshire on a range of charges, including criminal conspiracy, racketeering and money laundering. EPA - JOSE MENDEZ

In 2015, Peter and Junior were sentenced for their crimes and sent to off-the-radar federal Witness Security Unit prisons, and we went into hiding. We now live in undisclosed locations with our young children, visit our husbands on weekends and holidays, and lie to our friends and neighbours about who we are.

While we sit in the carpool line waiting to pick up our kids, we wonder if it's time to change our phone numbers for the second time that month, fret over whether our husbands' upcoming testimony against a cartel head will cause a hitman to track us down, and try as hard as possible to imagine a distant future when our families will be reunited, under the watchful eye of the Witness Protection Program.

Even if you've never touched drugs, they've changed your life. While you may not realise it, narcotics are all around you, and they're altering the very fabric of the world we live in.

The innocent-looking cashier at your neighbourhood convenience store may be hiding a kilo of cocaine behind the counter, or the sweet, quiet lady you sit next to on a plane may have a balloon full of heroin in her stomach.

The smiling class parent who greets you at your son's high school dance might secretly be battling an addiction to prescription painkillers. Our husbands stashed millions of dollars' worth of cocaine and heroin in a luxury townhouse down the street from Harpo Studios, and did the same at a home in Calabasas, a few miles from where the Kardashians live.

Yet none of the neighbours suspected a thing. Or, look at us. We tell people we're just stay-at-home mums who are separated from our husbands, but in truth, we were once on a first-name basis with men who put bullets into the backs of people's heads. While most mothers like us are hosting the Boy Scout troop on Sunday nights, we're coming back from a day visiting our husbands in federal prison.

You can blame a lot of things for the pervasiveness of drugs in this country, but the truth is that Peter and Junior Flores, two baby-faced Mexican-American identical twin brothers from the West Side of Chicago, are behind much of it. While we knew - and know - them as the gentle, loving, mild-mannered men who treated us with nothing but love and respect, the law knows them as the most significant drug informants in US history.

As kids, Peter and Junior learned the business from their father. When they were in their teens, they started off dealing drugs on the streets of Little Village, the heavily Mexican area of Chicago around where we all grew up. Over the next few years, they established a contact in Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, and they graduated to become distributors rather than dealers. They set up their business, ran it like a well-oiled machine, and soon became Chicago's most prominent traffickers.

In Chicago, their business was strictly US-based. But when they fled to Mexico in 2003, they hit the international stage. Within a few years, they befriended the major cartel heads and became responsible for hundreds of tons of narcotics crossing the border and being distributed throughout the United States and Canada.

Then they funnelled $2 billion in cash back into the hands of the Mexican cartels. In their five years living in Mexico, they weren't in any cartel, but they were the only American drug kingpins allowed to work directly with the bosses of the Sinaloa Cartel - headed by El Chapo and Ismael Zambada Garcia (aka "El Mayo") - and the Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO), run by El Chapo's relatives and sworn enemies, Arturo and Alfredo ("Mochomo") Beltrán.

They were wholesalers who bought vast volumes of narcotics from the cartels on credit and then arranged for its transport from Mexico to LA to Chicago. They took a business of tons and siphoned it into a business of kilos, then shipped the money back to their suppliers. Their operations didn't stop once the drugs reached the United States, though; they kept men on the ground in Chicago to process the money and make sure the narcotics reached their destinations across the United States and Canada.

No one in Mexico did what they did - or as well as they did - so El Chapo Guzmán, El Mayo Zambada, and the Beltrán Leyva brothers peacefully vied for their attention. What better way to move billions of dollars in drugs into the United States than with the genius of twins who'd already built an empire there, who had intimate knowledge of US drug trafficking, and who, best of all, were American citizens living in Mexico?

In early 2008, though, everything changed. The Sinaloa Cartel went to war with the BLO, and the average number of drug-related murders per month in Mexico shot up from two hundred to five hundred. Junior and Peter were working in a culture where it became normal for heads to roll into neighbourhood bars, right up to people's feet, or to hear of entire families shot to death on the streets of Guadalajara.

Our husbands saw men lying in the hot sun, strapped to trees, and skinned alive. Suddenly, the drug trade in Mexico had become a grudge match on a macro scale. Sinaloa and the BLO wanted to destroy each other, and that meant killing everyone who was on the opposing side. Unfortunately for our husbands, they were the biggest assets of both cartels and, as such, caught between the two of them.

The cast of the show ‘Mob Wives’ depicts the glamorous wives of crime bosses but Mia and Olivia Flores say they now have to lead double lives, hiding their real identities.
The cast of the show ‘Mob Wives’ depicts the glamorous wives of crime bosses but Mia and Olivia Flores say they now have to lead double lives, hiding their real identities. Supplied

At this point - the height of their career - our husbands had warehouses, stash houses run by their many employees, and legitimate businesses - such as shipping companies - as fronts. Their financial ledgers were so sophisticated and extensive that when they turned them over to US authorities, the feds had to hire a team of forensic accountants to sort through them. An official said that they ran their business like a Fortune 500 company, and that if they hadn't been drug traffickers, they could have been CEOs of legitimate corporations.

In the years 2006 to 2008, their peak, they transported between two thousand and three thousand pounds of cocaine each month. If you consider that a kilo is 2.2 pounds, that's almost $50 million worth of cocaine a month. That's $600 million a year.

But they were stuck between two warring factions, and they hated the example they were setting for their families. So they gave it all up.

When they did, they spent most of 2008 acting as informants, recording every business conversation they had and handing over massive shipments of drugs that had crossed the border on their watch. After several months, they voluntarily turned themselves in to Drug Enforcement Administration officials at the Guadalajara International Airport and were immediately flown back to Chicago.

Over the next six years, they were held in protective custody. Because of their testimony, the city of Chicago named El Chapo as public enemy number 1, a title previously only given to Al Capone. On January 27, 2015, they were sentenced to fourteen years in a maximum-security prison, with credit given for the six years they'd already served.

If we're lucky - and alive - we'll see them released in 2021, when our kids are practically grown up.

While they're behind bars, they can't tell the world about the horrors we all witnessed and the redemption we've sought. But we can.

We've remained silent in the eight long years since we kissed the beaches of Mexico goodbye, fleeing back to Chicago and toward our new, uncharted futures. Now, we can only trust each other, and we certainly can't tell anything to our neighbours or families. We've considered granting interviews to the press, but we wanted to hold off until we could tell our full stories, without interruption. We want you to hear what our families have gone through in our own words.

We're not writing this book to become rich. We've been wealthy beyond our wildest dreams, and the truth is, we don't miss it. If we'd wanted our lives to stay the same, we would have begged our husbands to stay in Mexico, where we drove luxury cars, lived in penthouses, vacationed on the beach in Puerto Vallarta whenever we felt like it, and had more cash than our families had ever dreamt of.

But it was dirty money, with a trail of bodies behind it. Through it all, we would have done anything to have husbands with nine-to-five jobs like our fathers had. For different reasons, we fell in love with criminals, and we're not here to justify it, but we'd like to tell you how and why it happened.

Our lives are tarnished and secretive, and our pasts are shameful, but we have a story to tell. We've had greater access to the cartels than almost any other American citizen, so we can provide an unprecedented window into how they work, the damage they've caused, and why put- ting them out of business has proven so difficult.

As for the personal side of this story, we want to provide an unfiltered look into why people enter a life of crime. Unfortunately, for many, especially poor Mexican workers, it's the only choice they feel they have.

You're probably surprised we're still with our husbands, and trust us, we understand why. The idea of one of our kids marrying someone involved in any kind of illegal activity - let alone drug trafficking - is unthinkable. We're not asking that you like Peter and Junior, and, in fact, you may wish they could spend the rest of their lives in prison for all the harm they've caused.

Neither of us is here to try to save our reputation. We just want to open up a window into our culture, show how it shaped us, and help you visualise a life we wouldn't wish on our worst enemies. Sometimes, stories don't have heroes. We just hope to illuminate how and why people are pulled into the drug trade, how it ruins them, and what it's like to live the rest of your life as a consequence of the mistakes you've made in the past.

From Cartel Wives: The True Story of How an Extraordinary Family Brought Down El Chapo and the Sinaloa Drug Cartel. Published by Allen & Unwin, in stores now RRP $29.99.

Purchase online at Booktopia.

Cartel Wives tells the story of two sisters whose husbands brought down Mexican drug lords
Cartel Wives tells the story of two sisters whose husbands brought down Mexican drug lords Supplied
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