The story of the 150 live sheep in the middle of Chicago prompted others in Brooklyn federal court to laugh.
Not the drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
But that may have been because the person telling the tale was Pedro Flores, who along with his twin brother Margarito Flores had gone from the biggest drug dealers in Chicago to being the biggest drug informants maybe anywhere.
El Chapo was sitting at the defense table in a dark grey suit, white shirt, and plaid tie with the same impassive expression as when he had first gazed at Flores on the witness stand earlier on Tuesday afternoon.
The two had not seen each other since it became known the twins were cooperating with the American government.
El Chapo stared straight at Flores, his dark eyes remarkable in their emptiness.
Clad in a dark blue prison garb, Flores seemed to feel the gaze and avoided meeting it, gloomingly looking off to the side as he rocked almost imperceptibly back and forth in the chair from which he was about to become El Rat.
Much of what Flores had to say had already been recounted in a book by the twins’ wives, along with a host of articles, including in the The Daily Beast.
But the sheep were something new. Flores testified that a drug shipment had arrived by truck with 150 of the bleaters serving as a “cover load” to disguise the journey’s true purpose.
Previous cover loads had often included produce, which had caused the local market to crater as the twins sought to get rid of the stuff, almost giving it away. “Practically free vegetables,” Flores testified.
That was nothing compared to the problem presented by the sheep. “Looking at a bunch of live sheep,” Flores recounted, “what are we going to do with them? The driver said he can't take them back.”
Flores testified that he had convinced a friend with some land outside Chicago to accept some of them for $10,000.
“Did he take all the sheep?” the prosecutor asked.
“No,” Flores said.
The prosecutor began to ask what happened to the remaining creatures and a defense lawyer offered an objection that the judge sustained.
Maybe the defense was worried that the fate of those sheep—possible sheepicide—might outrage any animal lovers in the jury. Never mind that there had been considerable testimony by other witnesses about El Chapo’s violence toward his fellow humans.
Flores recounted a moment when El Chapo showed the twins a news article about a bust that had led to a significant loss in merchandise.The twins told him that the article looked like fake news to them. El Chapo had allegedly issued a one-word order to a henchman regarding the person responsible for the load: “Execute.”
The twins later googled the story and found that it was indeed genuine. They passed the news on to El Chapo. The prosecutor asked if Flores knew the outcome.
“No,” he said.
From the witness stand, Flores also offered an account of a 350-kilo drug shipment that had arrived in a van that was too big to fit into a house garage where the load was to have been unloaded. The twins had been forced to remain in plain sight as they began to remove plastic garbage bags filled with kilos of cocaine.
“The bags began to rip and the kilos were falling out and the neighbors were out,” Flores said. “It was a pretty hectic day.”
On hearing this, El Chapo did not crack a smile. He also did not share in the general amusement when the prosecutor spoke of “keys” and Flores became momentarily confused.
“Kilos?” Flores asked.
“Car keys,” the prosecutor said.
Others in the courtroom laughed, as they also did when Flores reported on two gifts he had given El Chapo. Flores had worn shorts and jewelry when he first visited El Chapo's hideout in the Sinaloa mountains. Flores said El Chapo had remarked ”with all that money, I couldn't afford the rest of the pants?” El Chapo had said of the jewelry, “All that is missing is the dress.”
On a return visit, Flores had known just what to give El Chapo. “Blue jean shorts and a box of Viagra,” Flores said.
The prosecutor asked how El Chapo had reacted.
“He laughed,” Flores said.
Not now he wasn’t.
Flores told the court that he must have seen too many movies, because on another occasion he presented El Chapo with two gold-plated Desert Eagle .50 caliber pistols.
“Not positive,” Flores said of El Chapo’s response. “Big old heavy handguns. It wasn't something they use, I guess.”
The direct examination proceeded to why the twins had decided to turn themselves in and cooperate with the government, pleading guilty on Nov. 30, 2008. Flores said their father had been arrested when their mother was pregnant with them and had been in prison until they were 7. The father had immediately recruited them into the drug business upon his return, handling merchandise and serving as translators at deals.
With children of their own on the way, the twins had begun to wonder what kind of future they could offer their own kids. “I just wanted something better for my children,” Pedro Flores said.
He and his brother were also worried about being caught between El Chapo’s outfit and a rival crew with which they had also been doing business. Both were demanding the twins’ immediate and total loyalty.
“For years, my brother and I had enjoyed the sweet spot in the cartel where we just had to worry about making money,” he said. “That was about to change.”
The DEA did not initially seem to appreciate the magnitude of what the twins could deliver and had not provided them with electronic recording equipment. The twins had gone on their own to Radio Shack and began making recordings. They were a significant reason why El Chapo was now sitting in a Brooklyn courtroom.
By accomplishing that, the twins had managed to get what could have been life sentences reduced to terms of 14 years. Pedro Flores was able to testify on Tuesday that he is just two years from release with time off for good behavior, despite various prison rule infractions involving phone usage and commissary. He had also managed to get his wife pregnant in a bathroom while meeting with the DEA.
“Having a hard time following the rules, I guess,” Pedro allowed.
Tuesday ended with the prosecutor playing a recording of a call that was the lead-up to an incredibly incriminating call with El Chapo that is expected to be played in court on Wednesday.
In the lead-up call, the twins can be heard giving a henchman the phone number El Chapo should use to contact them. A musical sound could be heard in the background, and Flores said it was his ring tone. He gave the courtroom one more opportunity to at least half-laugh. “That’s my DEA handler calling,” he said.
The prosecutor removed from an evidence bag a white flip phone and showed it to Flores, who identified it as the phone whose number he had given the henchman.
At that moment, El Chapo raised his hand to his face and began to rub as he listened to the lead-up call and now gazed at the witness and the telephone that is likely to be the instrument that will lead to him receiving a life sentence with no hope of reduction or parole.
In this moment, El Chapo looked as far away from laughter as you can get.