Cartel Wives

A True Story of Deadly Decisions, Steadfast Love, and Bringing Down El Chapo


By Mia Flores

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An astonishing, revelatory, and redemptive memoir from two women who escaped the international drug trade, with never-before-revealed details about El Chapo, the Sinaloa Cartel, and the dangerous world of illicit drugs.

Olivia and Mia Flores are married to the highest level drug traffickers ever to become US informants. Their husbands worked with–and then brought down–El Chapo, as well as dozens of high-level members of the Mexican cartels. They had everything money could buy: luxury cars, huge houses, and expensive jewelry–but they chose to give it all up when they cooperated with the US government. They knew that life was about more than wealth; it was about love, family, and doing what’s right. Cartel Wives is a love story, a “Married to the Mob” story, an insider’s look into the terrifying but high-flying empire of the new world of drugs, and, finally, the story of a major DEA and FBI operation.


Cast of Major Characters

(in alphabetical order)

Tomas Arevalo-Renteria: Nicknamed "Tommy." He was from Sinaloa and became Junior Flores's best friend. In Chicago, he was the twins' first supplier from Mexico and soon began to work for them. The Flores twins later helped secure his indictment.

Alfredo Beltrán Leyva: Nicknamed "Mochomo." He is the younger brother of Arturo, and along with his four other brothers, founder of the Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO), one of Mexico's top cartels. He was a BLO boss alongside his brother Arturo. The Flores brothers' cooperation was a major factor in him not going to trial, and on February 23, 2016, Mochomo pled guilty to conspiracy charges and is now serving a life sentence.

Arturo Beltrán Leyva: Nicknamed "La Barba" and the self-proclaimed Jefe de Jefes or "Boss of Bosses." Along with his four brothers, he was one of the founders of the Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO), one of Mexico's most powerful cartels. The BLO was allied with the Sinaloa Cartel until they started warring in 2008. He was the cartel's head boss until he was killed by Navy SEALs during a raid on December 16, 2009.

Joe Bonelli: The longtime lawyer of Peter and Junior Flores, who defended their brother Adrian against drug charges and took their case when they decided to become federal informants. During the brothers' incarceration, Joe felt he was such a target of retaliation by the cartels that he asked his name never be used, and in all public documents, it's been redacted.

Ruben Castillo: The chief judge for the United States Court of the Northern District of Illinois, who presided over the federal cases of Peter and Junior Flores.

David: Junior Flores's lawyer, who is a top attorney in Chicago and was hired while Junior was negotiating his plea agreement.

Eric: A special agent for the Chicago bureau of the DEA. He became one of the leading agents who oversaw the Flores brothers' case when they became informants.

Manuel Fernández Valencia, aka "La Puerca" or "El Animal": A Sinaloa and BLO associate who controlled a series of tunnels from Mexicali to Calexico and became a trusted business partner of the Flores brothers. He was captured and arrested in late 2010.

Adrian Flores: The older brother of Pedro and Margarito Flores, Jr. He was arrested for drug conspiracy in August 1998. Despite the constant pressure he put on his younger brothers to make an honest living, his arrest left a financial vacuum in his family, causing the twins to build their own drug enterprise.

Amilia Flores: The widow of Margarito Flores, Sr. She has seven children with her late husband.

Daniela Flores: The wife of Adrian Flores, she fled Mexico in 2008 along with the rest of the Flores family.

Margarito Flores, Jr.: Nicknamed "Junior." He and his identical twin, Pedro, were born on June 12, 1981, in Chicago, the youngest of seven children. He and his brother became two of the most important cooperators in US history and are scheduled to be released from prison no later than 2021.

Margarito Flores, Sr.: Born in 1937 in central Mexico. This father of twelve dropped out of school in third grade, married his wife in 1959, and immigrated to Chicago in 1969. In 1981, he was sentenced to ten years in prison for possession of a controlled substance, and after his release, he taught his young sons the drug trade. He returned to Mexico in 2009 and was never seen again.

Mia Flores: Born in Chicago in 1980 and daughter of a police officer in the Chicago Police Department's special units. She married Peter Flores in 2005 and now lives in hiding with her two young children.

Olivia Flores: Born in Chicago in 1975 to a Chicago police officer. She married Margarito Flores, Jr. in 2005 and now lives in hiding with her two young children.

Pedro Flores: Nicknamed "Peter." He and his identical twin, Margarito Jr., were born on June 12, 1981, in Chicago, the youngest of seven children. He and his brother became two of the most important cooperators in US history and are scheduled to be released from prison no later than 2021.

Kevin Garcia: Known to most people as "K." This high-ranking member of the Latin Kings was Olivia Flores's second husband. He was gunned down by rival gang members in Chicago in June 2003.

Sergio Gomez: A paid informant of the Chicago Police Department beginning in the late 1990s. Gomez was behind the 2003 kidnapping of Peter Flores in Chicago. With the assistance of corrupt police officers, it's estimated he kidnapped and robbed at least twenty-nine other drug dealers over the years. In 2015, Gomez was sentenced to forty years in prison.

Joaquín Guzmán Loera: Nicknamed "El Chapo." He was born in poverty to a cattle farmer from the Mexican state of Sinaloa on April 4, 1957. He rose to become the head of the Sinaloa Cartel and the most powerful and sought-after drug lord in the world.

Mark Jones: The high school and college boyfriend of Mia Flores. He became a CPD beat cop. In 2012, in a massive police corruption scandal, he pleaded guilty to stealing cash from suspected drug dealers and other Chicago citizens. Because of his work undercover, he was sentenced to just two months in prison.

Leo: The first husband of Olivia Flores. He gave prosecutors information about Sergio Gomez's plot to kidnap Olivia Flores's parents, hoping for a lenient sentence.

Matthew: A special agent for the Milwaukee bureau of the DEA. He originally raided the Flores brothers' homes in 2004, an event that led to them becoming fugitives. He worked closely with Eric on the Flores brothers' case when they became informants.

Músico: Arturo Beltrán Leyva's right-hand man and top lieutenant in the BLO.

German Olivares: El Chapo's chief executive and right-hand man. He controlled the Juárez Plaza.

Rubén Oseguera Cervantes: Nicknamed "El Mencho." This feared leader of the New Generation Cartel once barricaded Guadalajara and set fire to banks, buses, and gas stations, then posted it on YouTube. He's been known to murder Mexican Army soldiers and shoot down military helicopters with shoulder-held rocket launchers. After the capture of El Chapo, he is now the most wanted drug lord in Mexico.

Pablo: Known as "Uncle Pablo" to Peter and Junior Flores. He was an old family friend and associate of the Sinaloa Cartel who for many years served as their supplier. He was behind the April 2005 kidnapping of Peter Flores and the December 2005 kidnapping of Margarito Flores, Sr. After betraying El Chapo and not settling his debts with him, he was kidnapped and executed by the drug lord's sicarios.

Paco: One of Junior Flores's closest friends. Músico was his boss in the BLO, and he was Chapillo Lomas's compadre. He was in charge of collecting $500,000 monthly to pay Mexican officials to open up drug routes.

Rambo: El Chapo's top sicario, or hitman, and head of a cell of hitmen in Jalisco, Mexico.

Tom: An assistant US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois from 2004 to 2015. Tom led the investigation and prosecution of the Flores brothers and the dozens of superseding indictments that spun out of their case. He left government service for private practice in February 2015.

Alfredo Vásquez-Hernández: A compadre and longtime friend of El Chapo's whom the Flores brothers partnered with to open a furniture transport company that would help them secretly transport drugs in rail cars. In November 2014 he pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy and was sentenced to twenty-two years in prison.

Ismael Zambada García: Nicknamed "El Mayo." He was born on New Year's Day 1948. He is one of the founders and leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel, along with El Chapo Guzmán. He is currently under indictment by the United States and Mexico, with over $5 million in reward money for his capture, and with the imprisonment of El Chapo, he is the current head of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Ismael Zambada Imperial, aka "Mayito Gordo": The younger brother of Vicente and Mayito Flaco, this narco junior son of El Mayo was arrested near Culiacán in November 2014 and is due to be extradited to San Diego to stand trial for drug trafficking.

Vicente Zambada Niebla: Nicknamed "El Vicentillo" or "El Niño." He is one of the sons of El Mayo. Vicente rose to become number 3 in the Sinaloa Cartel. He was arrested in 2009 and extradited to the United States in 2010, where he became a US informant. He is currently awaiting sentencing for narcotics trafficking.

Ismael Zambada Sicairos, aka "Mayito Flaco": The younger brother of Vicente and older brother of Mayito Gordo. His indictment for drug trafficking was unsealed in San Diego in January 2015. He is now a fugitive.


To our kids' friends, we're just average soccer moms.

In truth, we're the wives of identical twin brothers who are almost single-handedly responsible for the meteoric rise of narcotics in the United States over the last two decades. From 1998 to 2008, our husbands, Pedro and Margarito Flores, Jr., grew to become high-level traffickers who blazed a drug-riddled trail across the Mexican border, dramatically increasing the volume of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and marijuana passing into the United States, traveling through their hub in Chicago, and then fanning out to almost a dozen major cities across the United States and Canada.

In 2008, at the height of their criminal enterprise, Peter and Junior, as we know them and will call them in this book, made the difficult and life-changing decision to cooperate with the federal government, become informants, and ultimately turn themselves in. This was a family decision, made by the four of us while sitting at the kitchen table one night, and we did it to spare our children from the horrors of the recent Mexican drug wars, with their torture, murder, and complete destruction of far too many families and communities. More than that, we needed to stop the cycle of crime that our husbands were born into; we didn't want our children to see this as their future. We were never drug users, and our husbands weren't—and never had been—proud of their day-to-day work. They did it only because it was the only life they'd ever known. In their family, drugs weren't just normal and accepted, they were the trade their father taught them. Even in America—the supposed land of opportunity—when you're poor, uneducated, and Mexican, drug dealing is often thought to be the only way up.

After Peter and Junior became informants and told the US Attorney's office every detail of their criminal career, they spent almost all of 2008 secretly recording conversations with the highest-level cartel members in Mexico, including notorious narcocriminal Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán. Their unprecedented cooperation helped secure the indictments of sixty-nine major drug figures, from the architects of border-crossing tunnels to the bosses of several cartels, who practically ran Mexico. Additionally, they assisted in eleven superseding indictments that netted over one hundred people. Today, not all of these people are in jail, but with our husbands' testimony, they soon will be. And some of the worst of the worst are dead, killed by the mouths they once helped feed.

In 2015, Peter and Junior were sentenced for their crimes and sent to off-the-radar federal Witness Security Unit prisons, and we went into hiding. We now live in undisclosed locations with our young children, visit our husbands on weekends and holidays, and lie to our friends and neighbors about who we are. While we sit in the carpool line waiting to pick up our kids, we wonder if it's time to change our cell phone numbers for the second time that month, fret over whether our husbands' upcoming testimony against a cartel head will cause a hitman to track us down, and try as hard as possible to imagine a distant future when our families will be reunited, under the watchful eye of the Witness Protection Program.

Even if you've never touched drugs, they've changed your life. While you may not realize it, narcotics are all around you, and they're altering the very fabric of the world we live in. The innocent-looking cashier at your neighborhood convenience store may be hiding a kilo of cocaine behind the counter, or the sweet, quiet lady you sit next to on a plane may have a balloon full of heroin in her stomach. The smiling class parent who greets you at your son's junior high school dance might secretly be battling an addiction to prescription painkillers. Our husbands stashed millions of dollars' worth of cocaine and heroin in a luxury townhouse down the street from Harpo Studios, and did the same at a home in tony Calabasas, a few miles from where the Kardashians live. Yet none of the neighbors suspected a thing. Or, look at us. We tell people we're just stay-at-home moms who are separated from our husbands, but in truth, we were once on a first-name basis with men who put bullets into the backs of people's heads. While most mothers like us are hosting the Boy Scout troop on Sunday nights, we're coming back from a day visiting our husbands in federal prison.

You can blame a lot of things for the pervasiveness of drugs in this country, but the truth is that Peter and Junior Flores, two baby-faced Mexican American identical twin brothers from the West Side of Chicago, are behind much of it. While we knew—and know—them as the gentle, loving, mild-mannered men who treated us with nothing but love and respect, the law knows them as the most significant drug informants in US history.

As kids, Peter and Junior learned the business from their father. When they were in their teens, they started off dealing drugs on the streets of Little Village, the heavily Mexican area of Chicago around where we all grew up. Over the next few years, they established a contact in Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, and they graduated to become distributors rather than dealers. They set up their business, ran it like a well-oiled machine, and soon became Chicago's most prominent traffickers.

In Chicago, their business was strictly US-based. But when they fled to Mexico in 2003, they hit the international stage. Within a few years, they befriended the major cartel heads and became responsible for hundreds of tons of narcotics crossing the border and being distributed throughout the United States and Canada. Then they funneled $2 billion in cash back into the hands of the Mexican cartels. In their five years living in Mexico, they weren't in any cartel, but they were the only American drug kingpins allowed to work directly with the bosses of the Sinaloa Cartel—headed by El Chapo and Ismael Zambada Garcia (aka "El Mayo")—and the Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO), run by El Chapo's relatives and sworn enemies, Arturo and Alfredo ("Mochomo") Beltrán. They were wholesalers who bought vast volumes of narcotics from the cartels on credit and then arranged for its transport from Mexico to LA to Chicago. They took a business of tons and siphoned it into a business of kilos, then shipped the money back to their suppliers. Their operations didn't stop once the drugs reached the United States, though; they kept men on the ground in Chicago to process the money and make sure the narcotics reached their destinations across the United States and Canada.

No one in Mexico did what they did—or as well as they did—so El Chapo Guzmán, El Mayo Zambada, and the Beltrán Leyva brothers peacefully vied for their attention. What better way to move billions of dollars in drugs into the United States than with the genius of twins who'd already built an empire there, who had intimate knowledge of US drug trafficking, and who, best of all, were American citizens living in Mexico?

In early 2008, though, everything changed. The Sinaloa Cartel went to war with the BLO, and the average number of drug-related murders per month in Mexico shot up from two hundred to five hundred. Junior and Peter were working in a culture where it became normal for heads to roll into neighborhood bars, right up to people's feet, or to hear of entire families shot to death on the streets of Guadalajara. Our husbands saw men lying in the hot sun, strapped to trees, and skinned alive. Suddenly, the drug trade in Mexico had become a grudge match on a macro scale. Sinaloa and the BLO wanted to destroy each other, and that meant killing everyone who was on the opposing side. Unfortunately for our husbands, they were the biggest assets of both cartels and, as such, caught between the two of them.

At this point—the height of their career—our husbands had warehouses, stash houses run by their many employees, and legitimate businesses—such as shipping companies—as fronts. Their financial ledgers were so sophisticated and extensive that when they turned them over to US authorities, the feds had to hire a team of forensic accountants to sort through them. An official said that they ran their business like a Fortune 500 company, and that if they hadn't been drug traffickers, they could have been CEOs of legitimate corporations. In the years 2006 to 2008, their peak, they transported between two thousand and three thousand pounds of cocaine each month. If you consider that a kilo is 2.2 pounds, that's almost $50 million worth of cocaine a month. That's $600 million a year.

But they were stuck between two warring factions, and they hated the example they were setting for their families. So they gave it all up.

When they did, they spent most of 2008 acting as informants, recording every business conversation they had and handing over massive shipments of drugs that had crossed the border on their watch. After several months, they voluntarily turned themselves in to Drug Enforcement Administration officials at the Guadalajara International Airport and were immediately flown back to Chicago. Over the next six years, they were held in protective custody. Because of their testimony, the city of Chicago named El Chapo as public enemy number 1, a title previously only given to Al Capone. On January 27, 2015, they were sentenced to fourteen years in a maximum security prison, with credit given for the six years they'd already served.

If we're lucky—and alive—we'll see them released in 2021, when our kids are practically grown up.

While they're behind bars, they can't tell the world about the horrors we all witnessed and the redemption we've sought. But we can.

We've remained silent in the eight long years since we kissed the beaches of Mexico goodbye, fleeing back to Chicago and toward our new, uncharted futures. Now, we can only trust each other, and we certainly can't tell anything to our neighbors or families. We've considered granting interviews to the press, but we wanted to hold off until we could tell our full stories, without interruption. We want you to hear what our families have gone through in our own words.

We're not writing this book to become rich. We've been wealthy beyond our wildest dreams, and the truth is, we don't miss it. If we'd wanted our lives to stay the same, we would have begged our husbands to stay in Mexico, where we drove luxury cars, lived in penthouses, vacationed on the beach in Puerto Vallarta whenever we felt like it, and had more cash than our families had ever dreamed of. But it was dirty money, with a trail of bodies behind it. Through it all, we would have done anything to have husbands with nine-to-five jobs like our fathers had. For different reasons, we fell in love with criminals, and we're not here to justify it, but we'd like to tell you how and why it happened.

Our lives are tarnished and secretive, and our pasts are shameful, but we have a story to tell. We've had greater access to the cartels than almost any other American citizen, so we can provide an unprecedented window into how they work, the damage they've caused, and why putting them out of business has proven so difficult.

As for the personal side of this story, we want to provide an unfiltered look into why people enter a life of crime. Unfortunately, for many, especially poor Mexican workers, it's the only choice they feel they have.

You're probably surprised we're still with our husbands, and trust us, we understand why. The idea of one of our kids marrying someone involved in any kind of illegal activity—let alone drug trafficking—is unthinkable. We're not asking that you like Peter and Junior, and, in fact, you may wish they could spend the rest of their lives in prison for all the harm they've caused. Neither of us is here to try to save our reputation. We just want to open up a window into our culture, show how it shaped us, and help you visualize a life we wouldn't wish on our worst enemies. Sometimes, stories don't have heroes. We just hope to illuminate how and why people are pulled into the drug trade, how it ruins them, and what it's like to live the rest of your life as a consequence of the mistakes you've made in the past.





I was born in 1975 in Pilsen, a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood in Chicago's Lower West Side, about three miles southwest of the Loop.

Pilsen was about as inner city as you can get, and growing up I thought it was normal to see crowds of gangbangers on the corner near my house. I just assumed everywhere was like that. But now that I'm an adult, I get it. My husband and I had a conversation recently, and he was like, "Pilsen is a low-income neighborhood."

I said, "No, it's middle class."

"Babe, you were not middle class."

"Yeah, I guess you're right." I hadn't even realized it till he said something.

In my mind, we lived in a great neighborhood because my parents did everything they could to make my older sister and me feel comfortable. My grandfather came from Mexico when my dad was seven or eight, then saved enough money to bring his family over, too. The immigration process wasn't easy, and it took a few years because he chose to do it legally. But he was an honest, hardworking man, and he wouldn't have had it any other way.

Dad came to Pilsen not speaking any English, and as he grew up his mentality was the same as his dad's: work hard, buy property, and save, save, save. Dad was determined to be someone who would make his family proud, so he got his first job at fourteen, put in overtime, went back to school, and became a US citizen. Then he became a Chicago police officer and patrolled the streets all day, bravely wearing his blue uniform.

He and Mom wanted us to have the very best, so they sent my sister and me to Catholic school. We got braces in middle school when no one else had them. They saved all year, and when there was enough in the bank, they took us on family vacations to Disney World. By all accounts, we were living the American dream.

Like my dad, Mom always wanted more. She sold furs at Marshall Field's, so she got a discount on designer furniture, and she filled our house with it. Our home was small, but Mom was a great decorator, so I felt like we had money. Mom was also super smart. She was very driven, very determined, and so strong and powerful that she usually got whatever she wanted. Coming from my neighborhood, she was unique. Mom was Puerto Rican, had a gorgeous body, and held her head high; when she walked into a room, everybody knew she was there. She was always glamorous and well dressed—makeup and heels and great jewelry, even if it didn't cost much. Most importantly, though, she had a great heart to match. She always wanted something different from our neighborhood, and she dreamed of her family having a better life.

At home I was so shy, and I wasn't really able to be myself. My sister was my best friend and my biggest teacher; she had started going over multiplication tables with me when I was in kindergarten and she was in second grade. She took care of me, and I followed her around like her little shadow. I was such a daddy's girl; I clung to my dad and just showed my mom what she wanted to see or told her what she wanted to hear. She was such a firecracker and so controlling that if I crossed her, I wouldn't have heard the end of it. But outside the house, I was completely the opposite. I mimicked my mom—loud, impressive, and in charge. I was the cool girl in school, and I had my shit together.

I met my first boyfriend in middle school, and even though he was sixteen, he didn't mind that I was only fourteen. I had a great body and was so confident, trying to be all mature and sophisticated like my mom. I was a virgin, but I was so infatuated with him that I wasn't all that scared when we became sexually active early on. What did I know at fourteen? I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with this guy.

After a few months of being with him, I began throwing up and missed my period. I didn't make much of it, though; I wasn't keeping track of stuff like that. But when I found out I was pregnant, I was shocked. I remember thinking, How could this possibly happen to me? I came from a good family, I studied like crazy, and I'd always gotten straight As.

Even though Mom pushed for open communication with her girls, I was too scared and embarrassed to open up to her. My sister always told her everything, but I was so shy I covered my ears every time Mom tried to talk about sex. That's why it took me forever to work up the courage to tell her I was pregnant. When I finally did, she was so hurt and disappointed.

"What do you mean?" she said. "You're only fifteen! I put you through private school! I gave you everything!"

When my dad found out, he hugged me tight, tears streaming down his face.

"Olivia, your mom told me you're pregnant. I love you, and I'd do anything for you. I don't want you to be scared. Whatever you decide to do, your mom and I are here."

My sister, who was away at college, even got on a Greyhound bus to come home to be with me. Mom and Dad had always made it clear that family was everything, so all of them were going to support me, no matter what.

In the back of my mind, though, having this baby was going to make me a woman. I was finally going to be my own person. My mom wasn't going to be able to run my life, and I wasn't going to have any rules. I was going to have my baby, finish school, and spend the rest of my life with my boyfriend. I was in love, I was mature, and my mom couldn't tell me a damn thing.


On Sale
Apr 17, 2018
Page Count
368 pages

Mia Flores

About the Author

Mia Flores and Olivia Flores now live under assumed names. To their neighbors, they are just single mothers, soccer moms, and members of the PTA. But their personal stories could inspire the most terrifying and dramatic crime films and narco telenovelas being produced today.

Learn more about this author