Two former Sinaloa Cartel operatives turned informants have received reduced prison sentences in Chicago in exchange for their testimony, which offered an unprecedented level of information on the inner workings of Mexico's most powerful drug cartel.
On January 27, a US District Court in Chicago sentenced twin brothers Margarito and Pedro Flores to 14 years in prison for trafficking over 70 tons of cocaine and heroin in the United States, reported the Chicago Tribune. The drug traffickers also reportedly smuggled close to $2 billion in cash during the mid-2000s.
The Flores brothers have been in protective custody since 2008, the same year they began cooperating with US authorities by secretly recording conversations with their boss and head of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
The federal judge who heard the case said he would have sentenced the Flores brothers to life were it not for the extraordinary amount of information the brothers provided on the Sinaloa Cartel's structure and operations, according to the Associated Press. Their testimony has led to indictments against El Chapo and 61 other members of the Mexican cartel, including the drug lord's son, Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar, reported the Chicago Tribune.
In February 2014, El Chapo -- considered the world's most wanted criminal at the time -- was captured by Mexican Marines in the Pacific state of Sinaloa. Following recent indications authorities may be open to extraditing El Chapo to the United States, Mexico's Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said on January 27 the country had no intention of doing so any time soon.
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As noted by the federal judge, it is possible that the amount of information that the Flores brothers obtained -- and later passed on to US authorities -- about a drug trafficker as prolific as El Chapo may never be replicated. Their joint testimony offered insight into how Mexico's largest drug trafficking organization operates more like a federation of criminal alliances, rather than a tight-knit, hierarchal group. The Flores' testimony also provided intriguing details about the cartel's drug trafficking operations, including accounts of how El Chapo used several 747 aircraft to move cocaine from Central and South America to Mexico.
SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel News and Profile
The Flores brothers' cooperation with US authorities bought them a significantly reduced jail sentence, but it came at a heavy price. They have undoubtedly earned an untold number of enemies among Sinaloa operatives both within the United States and in Mexico, who have been outed as a result of their testimony.
"You and your family will always have to look over your shoulder," the federal judge told the twin brothers. "Any time you start your car, you're going to be wondering, is that car going to start or is it going to explode?"
Given the degree to which the Flores brothers cooperated with US authorities, the US will undoubtedly do everything possible to ensure that the brothers, their families, and their lawyer (whose name hasn't even been released to the public) remain safe. The case may well set a new standard for the kinds of benefits and protection that the US justice system can offer those who agree to become informants, should the brothers spend the rest of the lives either in prison or in hiding, but alive.