Wives of Chicago twins who cooperated against El Chapo arrested on money laundering charges
The wives of Chicago twins Pedro and Margarito Flores, who cooperated against Sinaloa cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, were arrested Tuesday on money laundering charges alleging they helped hide and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of their husbands’ drug proceeds over more than a decade.
An indictment unsealed in U.S. District Court charged Vivianna Lopez, 40, also known as Mia Flores; Valerie Gaytan, 45, also known as Olivia Flores; and three others with conspiring to launder illicit drug proceeds in Chicago between 2008 and last year.
Also charged in the money laundering conspiracy were the twins’ older brother, Armando Flores, 52, of Round Rock, Texas; Laura Lopez, 58, of Chicago; and Bianca Finnigan, 32, of Sycamore, Illinois, who is the sister of Vivianna Lopez.
According to the indictment, the defendants laundered drug trafficking proceeds generated by the Flores twins, West Side drug traffickers whose decision to cooperate with federal authorities in 2008 led to arguably the biggest drug case ever brought in Chicago, with charges against El Chapo himself as well as many of his top underbosses.
The Flores twins were sentenced in 2015 to 14 years in prison and were released late last year into witness protection. It’s unclear where their wives were arrested or where they would appear in court.
Laura Lopez and Finnigan appeared before a magistrate judge in Chicago on Tuesday afternoon where they each entered not guilty pleas.
Sources said Finnigan is the sister-in-law of corrupt former Chicago cop Jerome Finnigan, who was sentenced to prison in 2011 for leading a rogue group of cops in the department’s elite Special Operations Section.
Court information for Armando Flores was not immediately available.
The Flores’ wives are both the daughters of Chicago police officers and grew up in the city. Valerie Gaytan, Margarito Flores’ wife, was previously married to Latin Kings gang leader Rudy “Kato” Rangel, who was murdered at a West Side barbershop nearly two decades ago.
After the Flores twins were sentenced, the wives wrote a tell-all book called “Cartel Wives” detailing the highs and lows of being married to drug-kingpins-turned-cartel-informants.
A description of the book on Amazon.com said both wives are now living under assumed names because of the dangers posed by their husbands’ cooperation.
“To their neighbors, they are just single mothers, soccer moms, and members of the PTA,” the description reads. “But their personal stories could inspire the most terrifying and dramatic crime films and narco telenovelas being produced today.”
According to the nine-count indictment, the Flores’ wives maintained portions of their husbands’ drug proceeds at multiple locations over the course of more than 12 years, including Laura Lopez’s residence in Chicago and Armando Flores’ residence in Texas, and used the money for the benefit of themselves, the incarcerated husbands, and others.
The conspirators allegedly laundered the money through the use of currency exchanges, credit cards, money orders, gift cards, U.S. mail deliveries and other means, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
The charges allege the wives spent more than $165,000 in drug money on private school tuition for their children, $100,000 in international and domestic travel, $80,000 for Vivianna Lopez’s rent, and $11,000 in child support for one of their husband’s kids.
One of the wives also spent $31,000 of laundered drug money on her laundry business, the indictment alleged.
The indictment seeks forfeiture from Vivianna Lopez and Gaytan in the amount of $504,858.
Records show that as part of their unprecedented deal with federal authorities, the Flores twins forfeited about $4 million in drug proceeds to the government. During their cooperation, one of the twins drew the ire of prosecutors for purchasing a luxury vehicle for his wife, but their deal remained intact.
When U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo sentenced the twins in 2015, prosecutors said they were satisfied that no other proceeds remained hidden. The judge went along with the deal not to impose a fine on the brothers, even though he was clearly skeptical.
“I think everyone in this city, everyone in this city thinks that you have money,” Castillo said at the time, according to a transcript of the hearing. “Everyone. But we’re not going to do anything about that.”
That changed last year, however, when the twins asked to be released from prison early due to the COVID-19 pandemic that was ravaging the federal prison population. In a motion last fall, prosecutors wrote, “the government no longer holds the view that all recoverable proceeds were turned over.”
Born and raised in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, the Flores’ rise in the narcotics world was due in part because of their older brother, Armando, who was arrested in Chicago in 1998 on federal narcotics charges after selling drugs out of a Cicero car dealership. When he went to prison, the twins stepped in and started selling themselves, eventually growing the business to supply buyers in Milwaukee with multikilo loads of cocaine.
The twins built their drug empire using a system of couriers and henchmen whom they trusted to drive loads in vehicles outfitted with secret compartments and hydraulic trapdoors, court records show.
The drugs were often picked up in broad daylight, in supermarket parking lots and outside of South Loop dollar stores, and then kept in innocuous-looking stash houses from Chicago to Aurora.
Their main supplier was Guzman, whose vast operations included a fleet of 747 jets that had all the seats removed, the brothers said in sworn statements to a grand jury. The brothers said Guzman’s lieutenants helped the cartel coordinate shipments of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico using submarines, speedboats and amphibious vessels to avoid law enforcement.
After they agreed to flip, the brothers recorded phone calls and meetings with Guzman himself talking about massive shipments of drugs. The U.S. government helped the Flores brothers quietly leave Mexico in 2008, giving their immediate family members new identities and setting them up with $300,000 to pay for living expenses.
In December 2018, Pedro Flores testified in the landmark trial against Guzman in New York, where prosecutors played phone calls that were crucial in the federal effort against the drug lord. On one call, jurors heard Guzman’s own voice greeting Flores with “Amigo!” and discussing a price break on a shipment of heroin destined for Chicago.
Guzman was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.