BROOKLYN (CN) – For the first time ever, federal prosecutors brought one of their biggest weapons in the drug war to the witness stand Tuesday in the case against a Mexican kingpin. And with his testimony comes a closer look at the distribution of illicit drugs within their final destination: the United States.
Long-awaited star witness Pedro Flores, 37, a Chicago-born trafficker who moved massive amounts of cocaine and heroin with his identical twin brother Margarito before they both flipped to become Drug Enforcement Administration informants in 2008, took the stand against Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in his New York trial.
The Flores brothers’ statements “led directly to the charging of approximately 54 defendants in 2009,” according to their 2015 sentencing memorandum. Guzman, their alleged former associate, has pleaded not guilty in Brooklyn federal court to charges of drug trafficking, money laundering and conspiracy.
Pedro and Margarito Flores surrendered to U.S. Marshals in late November 2008. But for a few months prior to that surrender they served as double agents, continuing their drug distribution business while secretly recording phone calls and coordinating with DEA minders.
The soft-spoken Pedro -- testifying in English, unlike other cooperating witnesses so far -- wore navy prison scrubs and a wedding band and occasionally mumbled his answers, prompting Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Fels to tell him to speak up. He spun slightly in his chair and scratched his stubbly chin.
He’d gotten an early start in the business, he said. At age 7 or 8, Flores started helping his drug-trafficker father with his business by translating during deals and loading and unloading shipments. By 1998, when the twins were in their late teens, they had taken over the customer base of their older brother, who’d been arrested for drug trafficking.
Eventually, according to their sentencing memo, the Flores brothers became a “pipeline” for cartels to get drugs to wholesale customers in several major U.S. cities, who could then distribute them further.
In the early 2000s, the Flores brothers were working with a Sinaloa Cartel affiliate named Guadalupe Ledesma, a former associate of their father’s. Ledesma’s boss, they later learned, was “the man,” as Flores called him – Guzman.
Flores moved from the U.S. to Mexico in 2004 while under indictment in Wisconsin. He had his first meeting with Guzman in May 2005, he testified Tuesday. He’d been flown to the meeting spot in a small private jet, to a runway dug into the side of a mountain. On the way to the hideout, Flores saw a naked man tied to a tree with a chain, but does not know what happened to him.
Guzman was waiting for him under a palapa, with two walkie-talkies, in jeans and a T-shirt, Flores told jurors Tuesday. Like the American he was, for that first meeting with “the man,” Flores wore jean shorts, as well as a T-shirt and jewelry, inspiring Guzman to crack a joke.
“With all that money, [you] couldn’t afford the rest of the pants?” Flores said Guzman asked him. Guzman also apparently commented on the jewelry, adding that the only thing missing was a dress.
Flores also came bearing gifts for the Sinaloa Cartel leader: two gold-plated Desert Eagle handguns. The guns were not well-received by the kingpin, he said.
“They weighed like 15 pounds each,” Flores told the jurors.
At a later meeting, Flores testified, he gifted “El Chapo” with a pair of jean shorts in a “box that looked like a Viagra box,” which gave Guzman a giggle.
The Flores brothers had been having trouble with Ledesma, whom Pedro believed to be behind a traumatic kidnapping he’d undergone over a debt they owed him. Guzman had intervened to set Flores free, according to the sentencing memo.