Chicago twins Pedro and Margarito Flores were in the middle of their cooperation against Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in 2010 when authorities intercepted a series of jail calls showing the brothers and their wives had growing concerns over the lack of an immunity deal from prosecutors.
“There is no paper yet,” Margarito Flores’ wife, Valerie Gaytan, said in one call, adding that their lawyer was trying to figure out why there was a delay in getting a written agreement. “There is no paper for any type of protection. That’s what he’s worried about.”
In another call a few days later, Pedro Flores worried out loud to his wife, Vivianna Lopez, that a deal over immunity would be worthless if it wasn’t in writing. “What do we have to protect us? Nothing,” he said at one point.
Over the next two weeks, the couples speculated over bits and pieces of information they’d heard about their deal, including that a Jewish holiday had delayed discussions, that then-U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald was on vacation, and that the lead prosecutor in their case was, as Gaytan put it, “getting (expletive) from the front office.”
“It doesn’t make any sense, right?” Margarito Flores said.
The calls were played for the first time in an ongoing evidentiary hearing in U.S. District Court, where Gaytan and Lopez are challenging a money-laundering indictment against them by claiming they’d been granted immunity due to their husbands’ unprecedented cooperation against “El Chapo” and other high-ranking cartel members.
On Monday, Pedro Flores testified via a video link before U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly that he and his brother were promised early on by investigators that his wife and other family members would not be prosecuted for any drug-related activities.
“I thought my family was good,” Flores told the judge.
Also testifying was Gaytan, who said she was the one who flew to Chicago in April 2008 to tell the family’s criminal defense lawyer that the Flores twins were considering cooperating against the cartel. She said the brothers were adamant that any deal include immunity for the rest of the family.
Prosecutors, though, have repeatedly said that there was never any immunity deal for the wives, which could only be finalized in a written document approved by the highest levels at the U.S. attorney’s office. And even if such protection was offered, it would not have excused the wives from future crimes, prosecutors have argued.
Gaytan, 47, and Lopez, 42, were indicted in U.S. District Court in Chicago last year on money laundering charges alleging they’d hidden millions of their husbands’ drug proceeds from the government over a 12-year period.
In her continuing testimony Tuesday, Gaytan admitted that she did not disclose millions of dollars in drug proceeds that she’d collected from numerous couriers between 2004 and 2008.
Under questioning from both her attorney and federal prosecutors, Gaytan insisted the government was mostly concerned about one stash of between $4 and $5 million that they had arranged to be picked up from an associate in Maryland and stored under the floorboards of Gaytan’s home in Plainfield.
“They were asking me about specific properties, specific money,” Gaytan said. “The scope was very constricted.”
Gaytan testified her husband’s lawyer, identified only as “TD,” told her that if she turned in those drug proceeds she would get immunity. “I took it like he was telling me if you have it turn it in,” she said.
As he had on Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Erskine read directly from the wives’ 2017 tell-all book, “Cartel Wives,” including one passage where Gaytan said that the family was taking a leap of faith and had been given “no promises.”
Gaytan said that she was not referring to the government with those words, but rather “life in general.”
“We were walking the path of the unknown,” Gaytan said. “This road had never been traveled, and we didn’t know exactly what would come out of it.”