- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - Identical twin brothers who ran a drug-trafficking ring that spanned much of North America were sentenced Tuesday to 14 years in prison after a judge agreed to sharply reduce their penalty as a reward for becoming government informants and secretly recording Mexico’s most notorious drug lord.

In a rare courtroom display, it was a federal prosecutor who poured praise on Pedro and Margarito Flores, portraying them as among the most valuable traffickers-turned-informants in U.S. history and describing the courage they displayed in gathering evidence against Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and other leaders in Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel.

With credit for time served awaiting sentencing and for good behavior in prison, the brothers, now 33, could be out in as little as six years.

Chief U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo likened Americans’ sense of security to walls and scolded the brothers for introducing drugs that fueled violence and despair.

“You devastated those walls. You knocked them down,” he said.

The twins’ cooperation was the only thing that spared them from an actual life sentence, Castillo told the brothers. But, he added, they would still serve a life sentence of sorts - having to look over their shoulders the rest of their lives in constant fear of a deadly attack by an assassin working for the cartel they betrayed.

Castillo said the twins were the most significant traffickers ever in his court. But he said he had also never seen traffickers at the height of their power and wealth come forward to offer to become government witnesses, as the siblings had.

The twins appeared in court with the same olive-green clothes and the same closely cropped haircuts. Both kept tapping one foot nervously throughout the hourlong hearing.

Just before the judge imposed a sentence, each walked to a podium separately to speak, appearing uneasy.

“I’m ashamed. I’m embarrassed. I’m regretful,” Margarito Flores said. “There is no excuse.”

So successful was their criminal enterprise that the jewelry-loving, Maserati-driving twins smuggled $1.8 billion - wrapped in plastic and duct tape - into Mexico, according to prosecutors.

As he stepped forward to apologize in court, Pedro’s voice appeared to break as he apologized.

“I wanted to thank the United States (and federal agents) … for allowing the opportunity not to spend my life in prison,” he said.

Tuesday was their first public appearance since they began to spill their secrets six years ago.

Prosecutor Mike Ferrara had asked for a sentence of around 10 years. He noted the twins’ cooperation led to indictments of Guzman and more than 50 others.

The twins began cooperating with agents in 2008 and engaged cartel leaders for months, sometimes switching on recorders and shoving them in their pockets. They continually risked death, Ferrara said.

Security at the sentencing hearing was tighter than usual, with extra checks outside courtroom doors and a bomb-sniffing dog sweeping for explosives. To protect them, neither of the twins’ attorneys was named in court.

One of the attorneys told the court that Guzman, one of the world’s most wanted men at the time, would have had the twins killed at the slightest suspicion they had turned on him.

“The nature of Mr. Guzman’s practice would be to react first, ask questions later,” the attorney said.

The brothers’ father, Margarito Flores Sr., is presumed to have paid for their cooperation with his life. He was kidnapped in Mexico as word spread of his sons’ cooperation, according to government documents.

The 5-foot-4 twins’ trafficking careers soared after they left Chicago to live in Mexico around 2004. In mid-2005, they met with Guzman in his secret mountain compound to cut major drug deals, government filings said.

The brothers ran their operation from a Mexican ranch. Their network stretched from its Chicago hub to New York, Detroit and Washington, D.C., and to Los Angeles and Vancouver, British Columbia.

Castillo pointed at the brothers’ success in the drug world, saying they displayed skills that could have made them successful in legal careers.

“There are a lot of things you are,” he said, “but stupid is not one of them.”

Later Tuesday, Chicago-based U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon announced new charges against several Sinaloa figures stemming from the twins’ cooperation.

Asked about their lenient sentences and the message it sent to other would-be cartel traffickers, Fardon said it should demonstrate, “You can right some of what you did wrong … by helping the government.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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