“Sol Prendido” for Borderland Beat
They say Valerie Gaytan should get five years for laundering drug money from her husband Margarito Flores and his twin brother Pedro Flores, Chicago cocaine kingpins who helped convict the Sinaloa cartel boss. Her sister-in-law got 3½ years.
Valerie Gaytan (right) and her sister-in-law Vivianna Lopez during a 2021 appearance on the CNBC show “American Greed.” Prosecutors say Gaytan should get more prison time than Lopez got for laundering their husbands’ Sinaloa cartel cocaine cash.
The first time she was sentenced for handling drug money, Valerie Gaytan got a relative slap on the wrist — five months in prison.
In that case more than two decades ago, Gaytan was convicted of structuring transactions to avoid bank reporting requirements. Her then-husband Valentine Reveles, a convicted narcotics dealer, was working for the Juarez drug cartel, authorities say.
Now, federal prosecutors are seeking a five-year prison sentence for Gaytan for her role in laundering at least $2.3 million in drug proceeds tied to her current husband Margarito Flores and his twin brother Pedro Flores, the Chicago cocaine kingpins who got caught and then helped authorities convict their Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera.
In a court filing Thursday, prosecutors cited Gaytan’s 2001 conviction involving Reveles as one of the “aggravating factors” for a stiffer sentence than the 3½ years her sister-in-law Vivianna Lopez got for participating in the same money-laundering operation.
With the help of relatives, Gaytan and Lopez, who grew up on the South Side, laundered their husbands’ drug money through credit cards, money orders, the U.S. mail and currency exchanges while spending lavishly on vacations, private tuition for their kids, rent and luxury cars, according to prosecutors. The sisters turned in about $4 million in illicit cash to the government but hid more than $2 million, prosecutors say.
Also charged in the money-laundering case were Lopez’s sister Bianca Finnigan, who got probation, and their aunt Laura Lopez, sentenced to a year in prison.
The twins’ brother Armando Flores awaits sentencing.
The Flores twins, who admitted importing about a ton of cocaine a month into the United States, were arrested in 2008 in Mexico and cooperated with U.S. authorities against El Chapo to win lighter sentences.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had secretly recorded a call in which Guzmán and Pedro Flores discussed a drug deal. Pedro Flores testified against the Sinaloa cartel kingpin in 2019 at his trial in New York.
The Flores twins, who also grew up on the South Side, have completed their prison terms for drug convictions.
Guzmán is doing life in a Colorado super-max penitentiary, where he’s been complaining about the conditions of his imprisonment.
While the twins were in federal custody, Gaytan instructed Armando Flores to hide some of their drug money under his porch in Texas, according to prosecutors. They say that, starting in 2015, he mailed Gaytan payments one to four times a month averaging $9,000 for five years.
Gaytan — the daughter of a Chicago cop, like her sister-in-law — took classes at the University of Illinois Chicago and got a cosmetology license but “squandered those opportunities,” prosecutors say. “She instead chose to live off her husband’s ill-gotten gains, all while misleading the government as to the whereabouts of that drug money.”
After Gaytan and Reveles divorced in 1998, she married another drug trafficker, Rudy “Kato” Rangel Jr., whose chest was tattooed “My Queen Valerie.”
After Rangel was shot to death in 2003, Gaytan and Margarito Flores ran into each other at his funeral, dated and fell in love, according to Gaytan and Lopez’s book “Cartel Wives.”