By Jason Meisner
From Chicago Tribune
CHICAGO—The wives of Chicago twins who cooperated against Sinaloa cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman pleaded not guilty Tuesday to money laundering charges alleging they helped hide and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of their husbands’ drug proceeds over more than a decade.
Vivianna Lopez, 40, also known as Mia Flores, and Valerie Gaytan, 45, also known as Olivia Flores, entered their pleas during a telephone hearing before U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly.
Both Lopez and Gaytan are on free on bond in secret locations after their arrests last month in separate areas of the country. They spoke only briefly during the hearing Tuesday, confirming their identities and agreeing to proceed with the arraignment by phone.
Prosecutors said they have agreed with defense counsel for both women not to file anything in the public record that could disclose their locations.
Kennelly set a trial date for June 6, 2022.
An indictment unsealed last month accused the women and three others with conspiring to launder illicit drug proceeds in Chicago between 2008 and 2020 earned by their husbands, Pedro and Margarito Flores.
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.
Finnigan an Laura Lopez previously pleaded not guilty to the charges. Armando Flores was arrested in Texas and is currently awaiting extradition to Chicago, his lawyer said.
The Flores twins were 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 twins were sentenced in 2015 to 14 years in prison and were released late last year into witness protection.
In December 2018, Pedro Flores testified in the landmark trial against Guzman in New York, where prosecutors played phone calls recorded by the twins 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.
According to the nine-count indictment made public last month, 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 currency exchanges, credit cards, money orders, gift cards, and the U.S. mail, 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.
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