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'Cartel Wives' book excerpt: 'The Peak of their Careers'

Below is Chapter 14 of "CARTEL WIVES: A True Story of Deadly Decisions, Steadfast Love and Bringing Down El Chapo," by Mia Flores and Olivia Flores. The book is due out on Tuesday from Grand Central Publishing.

Olivia

Junior and Peter’s peak year was 2006. By early that winter, their business had started growing faster than they ever imagined, and they were Sinaloa’s and the BLO’s golden boys.

One of the main reasons it happened was because they took advantage of opportunities and connections that no one else had. Chapo and El Mayo were sending Junior and Peter four hundred kilos, minimum, every five days, which was unheard of. Most months they averaged selling two to three thousand kilos, but one time they broke the record and sold two tons in ten days. In Chicago, they’d sold one to two thousand kilos a month.

As for prices, they typically paid $15,000 a kilo. On each load, the cartels allowed them to buy 10 percent at cost as an incentive, which was $10,000 per kilo. This was just insane; the cartels could mark up anything they wanted to, but for Peter and Junior, they actually gave them a steep discount. Chapo and Mayo insisted on sending them twenty tons of weed, but my husband and brother‑in‑law didn’t want to sell it because the weed was too bulky and smelled too much. Unfortunately, when Chapo’s the boss you just can’t say no, so they had to do it.

After everything was paid off, they started making $5–7 million a month on average. In Chicago, they’d been making half that, like $2–3 million after expenses. They could have made more money, but they were giving their wholesalers the cheapest prices because they wanted to help them grow. The wholesalers were not only a big asset; they were their friends and not just guys they did business with, so Junior and Peter knew that if they made them happy, it was good business all around. Plus, wholesalers lost a lot through raids, seizures, and theft, so not having hefty price tags meant they could afford to take losses and still be able to make payments.

El Mayo told Junior that one of his guys once complained about their prices. The man had said, “The cuates [twins] are selling the kilos too cheap in Chicago! Please tell them to stop giving them away because they’re messing up my money.”

Junior got nervous. He thought Mayo was going to start regulating his prices. Instead, Mayo laughed and brushed the guy off. “Whatever the Flores brothers want to make is their business,” he said.

Junior joked, “You tell him that the next time he wants to move work in our city, he needs to ask us for permission.”

People might as well have because, believe me, the way Junior and Peter tackled different parts of their enterprise, business wasn’t just good, it was great.

Mia

Peter excelled at running the US‑based details. The numbers, the logistics, and the ins and outs of who needed what and when made his brain light up. I’ve never seen anyone roll calls like he did. One cell phone would ring, and he’d bark some orders about moving a shipment of cocaine from here to there, then another would ring, and he’d hang up and work out some numbers on another call. There were no days off.

He’d become more serious and withdrawn emotionally after his kid‑ napping, so focusing on straight business, nose to the grindstone, actually seemed to provide some relief for him. He felt like he’d been handed so much responsibility when they hooked up with the cartels that there was no room for error, and he became 100 percent pure perfectionist. He and Junior had taken too many losses and dealt with too much heartache and stress, so all they wanted to do was be great at what they did and never f--- anything up. They aimed to be the best traffickers ever, and, in 2006, they were on their way to achieving that goal.

Olivia

While Peter was more on the logistics side, Junior excelled at the personal side. Peter used to call Junior a kiss--- because of the way he handled their suppliers, customers, and associates. He’d take them out, entertain them, and make them feel really special, and sure, it seemed a little excessive sometimes, but they loved it. Junior’s a real people person. He enjoyed talking about stuff outside of business, which made every‑ body warm up to him fast.

He spent so much time beefing up their relationships and connections, but it wasn’t to the exclusion of everything else. He also set up their infrastructure in Culiacán, Mexico City, Juárez, Guadalajara, Mexicali, and Toluca, which meant we were traveling nonstop. He had to get stash houses, warehouses, workers, and put together businesses that could serve as fronts. When these things were in place, he had to negotiate for a specific contract with El Chapo, El Mayo, or Arturo Beltrán for a specific amount of coke, usually three or four tons set at a fixed price. If the street value went up or down, there was no renegotiating.

Even though they were still receiving shipments for the bosses, they also worked for themselves. In Chicago, their wholesale price for a kilo was $18,000, but they were getting it at $15,000. That’s a $3,000 profit on each one. But in LA, their cost was $12,000. Realizing they could double their profits if they relocated their shipments to LA, they decided to start their own route. Junior set up an infrastructure there, with stash houses, stash cars, warehouses, and workers, while Peter set up the routes, trailers, and drivers.

Mia

When the contracts were settled with the cartels, Peter would negotiate prices with his wholesalers. Then, it was time for things to move. Junior would fly wherever the cartel’s shipments had landed to make sure the cocaine was quality grade. Once everything checked out okay, Peter would coordinate with Junior and make sure all his drivers were in place, with a deposit payment in hand.

Junior would then pay the fleteros (independent contractors who move shipments of drugs to various locations) to pack up the commercial buses that held the stashes. Junior would call his contact person to clear all the military checkpoints so the buses could make it safely to the border. They paid $50,000 each month for this luxury.

Before they actually drove into California, Junior would have their workers unload the buses in Mexicali. Then, he’d pay cruceros, who are independent smugglers, to jump the work across the border using underground tunnels, cars with fast passes that allowed them to drive into Mexico without being checked, or however else they saw fit. Later, when they got access to La Puerca’s tunnels, they eliminated the cruceros and began using their own people.

When the shipments made it to LA and a deposit was paid, Junior’s employees would load the drugs into SUVs with stash compartments and take them to various stash houses. There, different workers would clean the bricks of kilos, repackage them, and vacuum seal them.

Then Junior’s workers would take the kilos to a warehouse and wait for the drivers that Peter would send. Employees would load up the tractor‑trailers with kilos, and then Peter would send his drivers to Cincinnati, Columbus, DC, Philly, New York, Detroit, and their main hub, Chicago. Peter was meticulous about keeping daily tabs on the drivers; the shipments had to get where they were expected. There could be anywhere from two to four semis on the road at a time, either with drugs or money, but they never carried more than three hundred kilos each.

Olivia

Once the shipments arrived at their destination, the same cycle started again. Peter had his workers unload the bricks, take them to the stash houses, count them, and keep inventory on them. They would never keep more than two to three hundred kilos or $5–7 million at a time in a single location, and they nicknamed every stash house, warehouse, courier, and wholesaler so that if the feds were listening they’d have no idea what and who they were talking about. For example, if there was a 7‑Eleven nearby, they’d call a stash house “the 7‑Eleven.”

Then, he’d serve his wholesalers, most of the time on the same day, and they’d dole out the bricks to their dealers.

Mia

The last part of the trafficking equation concerned money. Peter got the couriers in each city to collect cash from the wholesalers, and his tractor‑trailer drivers would take it to their main hub in Chicago. Then, his couriers would carry it to their stash houses. Peter would have them sort through the bills using money counters, bundle it up in certain denominations, package it, vacuum seal it, and transport it to the tractor‑trailer drivers. His workers would be up all night counting while his couriers were delivering drugs to his wholesalers, and he wouldn’t sleep till they all got home. It wasn’t just that he wanted to make sure everything was in order; he needed to be sure his guys were safe. They were counting millions of dollars, so it wouldn’t take an hour. They’d be working till four a.m., so he and I wouldn’t go to bed till five or six.

He was tired every day, but nothing ever came before his employees. They needed to know they were more valuable than any amount of money or drugs.

Olivia

With the money all loaded up, the semis would get back on the road and drive to LA, where Junior’s workers would hand the cash to the same person they picked up the work from. The cash would make its way across the border then on a commercial bus to Mexico City or Culiacán, and once it was there, Junior would have his employees take inventory of the packaged money and make sure it was accounted for. Junior would deposit it immediately because there was no such thing as consignment in Mexico, ever. All work at cost had to be paid upfront.

But if Junior negotiated a contract in LA or Chicago, they would have their workers unload the shipments at their warehouses, and then deposit the money in either city. The money always had to be paid in the city where they received the shipment.

Moving money was actually worse than moving drugs, and taking care of it was a job in and of itself. Junior and Peter served the wholesalers, who served the drug dealers, all the way down the line until some‑ one reached the little guys on the street corners who were collecting ones and fives from dope fiends. People imagine the cash involved in drug trafficking is like a scene in the movies, when one person hands another a suitcase full of clean, crispy $100 bills, all tied up and positioned in neat rows. It’s not like that. You have a hell of a lot of small bills on your hands, and you’ve got to figure out what to do with them.

Sometimes, these bills aren’t just a headache, they’re a real problem. Once, Junior went to see Chapo, and Olivares became furious with him about the small bills they’d given him.

“You turned in $1.6 million  in ones and fives!” he yelled. “That money filled up a whole f---ing shipping container. You better come pick them up right now because I’m not accepting your bull--- money as payment. If you don’t get it fast, I’ll burn it all.”

Junior was stunned, but he didn’t want to show it. Instead, he looked at Olivares and Chapo and leveled with them. “We have to pick up $6–7 million just to get $1 million in hundreds. We didn’t have the time to change the rest into larger bills. My brother’s depositing faster than the workers can run through the money and package it. Since you needed to transport the money quickly to Mexico, we had to do it this way.”

Chapo thought for a minute, then nodded his head. He understood that Junior was doing his best. “Let it go, Olivares,” he said. “Let it go.”

Olivares was beyond upset, but Chapo was the boss, and his order was going to stand.

Mia

While Peter took control of the ledgers and the accounting in meticulous detail, he and Junior took equal responsibility for hiring and training employees. As far as their people were concerned, they were one voice, and, together, they always stressed one thing: their workers should act, not think. “Leave the thinking up to us,” they’d say, knowing there was no room for error.

Their employees were their eyes and their ears, and they maintained close relationships with every one of them. Peter and Junior always made sure they knew that they were not replaceable, and they would never choose money over them. Because of the respect Junior and Peter showed them, their workers would do anything for them—or us—at any given moment.

Olivia

I remember one time when Junior’s associate and close friend Paco picked us up from the airport in Culiacán. Even though we had new identities, airports were always nerve‑wracking, especially that day. As soon as we stepped off the plane and walked past the gate, I could see the federal police. They were walking quickly toward us, looking right at Junior. My heart dropped.

Oh, God, I thought. This is it. He’s going to jail. They’re going to drag him away.

Instead, the police were there with Paco to escort us out of the airport safely.

That day, I realized again how powerful Junior and Peter were. They didn’t just have everyone—including the federal police—on their pay‑ roll, but these guys were prepared to do anything to protect them and us.

Mia

When we’d travel, Peter and Junior would take meetings during the day, and Olivia and I would go shopping or out to lunch, then meet them for dinner. Junior would entertain their clients, while Peter would sit back, a little serious. Still, it was always clear they were on the same page about anything and everything.

When we were out on the town, their associates just couldn’t under‑ stand why Olivia and I were always there. They’d just stare at us like, “Do you always have to be with your husbands?” In Mexico, women don’t go out with their spouses if there’s business involved; they’re home taking care of the kids or cooking.

Olivia

Junior and I went to Culiacán all the time, and it was another world to me. The whole city was plugged, just completely cartel‑infested. We’d sit outside and eat at the taco stands, and hundreds of pickups would pass by with armed men hanging out of the truck beds, in broad daylight. As I tried not to look too hard, a group of them would jump out and walk right past me to order, radios strapped to their waists and machine guns lying across their backs. Entire families, with little babies, would be eating tacos, and it wouldn’t even faze them. It was so normal that they’d become numb to it.

Then, you’d hear shots in the distance, and someone’s radio would go off. A muffled voice would bark orders, and the men standing in line would turn around, march back to their pickups, load up, and burn rubber toward whoever was shooting.

Mia

Olivia and I never went into the mountains to see Chapo, though. That was strictly off‑limits to women, unless you were a stripper or a prostitute. But according to Junior and Peter, there were plenty of them there because Chapo loved to pay for girls and always had them around. If they were young, all the better, and sometimes, he’d specifically ask for virgins.

Every inch of Chapo’s compound was spotlessly clean, and he had good hygiene. Why? Because he always had a girl on standby.

Olivia

Peter and Junior weren’t into that, though. After watching how their father acted, and all the heartache their mother went through, they wanted to be different with us. They were devoted to me and Mia and didn’t even think of cheating on us.

They made that clear when they were in the mountains, too. Chapo had twenty satellite phones, and every time Junior would land at Chapo’s compound, he’d call me on one to say he’d made it there safely. Then before he’d leave, he’d call me again to say he loved me. Chapo and Mayo would laugh at him every time he grabbed one of the phones.

“Your wife is muy carbona,” one of them would say, meaning, “She must be the boss.”

Once, when Vicente was there with his dad, he laughed, adding, “You must be scared of her!”

Junior would just shake his head, smile, and joke, “I’m more scared of her than Chapo.” Then everyone would burst out laughing.

All that power, and he still chose to think I was in charge.

Mia

Chapo was the boss, but he was a real person, too. Peter said he had this unique, super sharp sense of humor and was always kidding around. But not in a goofy way. He’d just say little things, and you couldn’t really tell if he was messing with you or not. He was really engaged, really perceptive, and was always making a very deliberate effort to stay on his toes and keep you on your toes. He was taking B12 shots and flying in special vitamins from Europe every week. “I like to keep my mind strong and my body healthy,” he’d say.

Olivia

That’s probably one of the reasons he liked Junior and Peter so much. They kept him feeling young.

Junior and Peter were just kids, in their mid‑twenties. Chapo and Mayo were thirty years older than them, and it was fun for them to have these young guys in their inner circle. Plus, as Americans, they were different, exotic almost, and Chapo just soaked that up. Chapo adored American food, and he once shut down a Burger King just so he could eat there. He loved talking about their business across the border because he knew how hard it was to work in the States. The challenge was exciting to him. It was a whole other world.

Mia

Junior and Peter being American wasn’t just good for stories or thrills, though. They knew how to deal with their American workers in a way the Mexicans never would.

Most of their wholesalers in Chicago were black, and people from Mexico didn’t trust them. They’d never dream of giving them work because they don’t have family in Mexico, and south of the border, the only thing that matters is where your roots are. Family is the cartel’s insurance. If you don’t pay up, they’ll kill your wife and your kids.

This psychological barrier existed on the other side, too. The black wholesalers and dealers didn’t respect the paisas, or their Mexican connections. They’d say, “Those paisas in sombreros don’t speak a lick of English!” There was no one to bridge that divide till Junior and Peter showed up. They built these new networks, business boomed, and suddenly everyone was happy.

Olivia

Their meetings with the cartels became natural and easygoing because of it. The more they got to know Chapo and Mayo and the richer they made them, the more relaxed things became. They started to become family to them. When they’d get to the palapa, Mayo would stand up from his chair, motion for them to sit down, and say, “No, Pedro, Junior, take my seat.” He’d always state both of their names, one right after the other, because he couldn’t tell them apart.

El Mayo started taking care of Junior and Peter because he loved how humble and appreciative they were. In Mexico, giving gifts to say thank you is expected, but Peter and Junior were the best at it. They’d gifted Mayo’s sons with $150,000 Rolex Masterpieces and $150,000 choppers, and even though Mayo never let his kids ride motorcycles because his grandson had tragically died on one, he still expressed his gratitude.

Chapo adored Junior and Peter and looked at them like sons. He even pushed them to be good influences on his youngest kid, who was sort of immature. Today, Alfredillo’s famous for posting Instagram photos of stacks of cash, his Lamborghini, hot girls in bikinis on yachts, and his pet cheetah. Back in 2005, there was no Instagram, and Alfredillo was just known as a rich narco junior. He lived in Guadalajara near us, and sometimes we’d see him driving his white Lamborghini way too fast past our house. Chapo got on him for this, and he wanted him to hang out with Junior and Peter.

“You’re good for my son,” he said to my husband and brother‑in‑law. Sure enough, Alfredillo started coming by our house after that.

Mia

Chapo and Mayo used to make jokes about how big Junior and Peter were. Chapo would laugh and say, “You can feed all the pigs in the world with the scraps you leave behind.” Basically, that means that you’re making so much money that you can afford to drop some for the pigs that are sniffing around under you. To them, Junior and Pete were these wonder twins, capable of almost anything.

Olivia

Things were so relaxed that sometimes the jokes were aimed at Chapo. It was hot in the mountains during the day, so a lot of the time Peter and Junior wore shorts when they flew there. For Americans, this was normal. When it’s hot, you’re sure as hell not wearing jeans. But in Mexico, shorts are for women, and if a man wears them, people think he’s feminine. Even though Chapo understood American culture, it wouldn’t stop him from poking fun at them when they’d visit.

“I know you have the money to buy the other half of your pants,” he’d say.

Junior and Peter loved kidding around, so one day before flying out they found out Chapo’s size, bought a pair of shorts for him, wrapped them up nicely with a box of Viagra, and presented them to him as a gift. It became the biggest joke out there in the mountains.

Mia

At home, we never joked about business or Chapo, much less talked about it. In fact, we hardly discussed all the money that was coming in.

By 2006, cash was something that was just there, free for the taking and spending. In fact, I felt jaded, almost unfazed, like a banker who walks into the vault a few times a week and sees millions of dollars in front of him. I never stopped and said in shock, “Oh, my gosh! We have so much money!” I just knew we had millions and could spend as much of it as we wanted. In fact, a few steps away from our bedroom was a room where Junior and Peter stored their cash. Probably $2 or $3 million was piled up, all tied in little bundles, and if I needed some, I’d just walk in and grab a few stacks.

I got new pieces of jewelry all the time. We bought a new car every couple of weeks, and Peter would give away the old car to one of his low‑level workers or one of our cleaning ladies. They probably couldn’t afford the gas, but here they were, with a brand new car in their garage.

Olivia

A $10 million loss from a raid, theft, or seizure used to be a huge deal, but that year, big losses were just part of the game. Sometimes, they wouldn’t even tell us about them, and they never made Junior have a bad day. You hear of husbands coming home from work, stressed out after terrible days and taking it out on their wives or ignoring their kids, but not Junior. He was always so positive.

Once, all of us were out at this really nice Italian restaurant, and Junior’s phone rang. In the middle of the conversation I heard him say, “$10 million gone? Okay. We’ll just have to make it up this week.”

I flipped out. “Make it up this week? You lost ten million dollars?” “Don’t stress, Liv,” he said. “It’s just a part of business.”

Mia

Peter wasn’t the type of guy to get really happy about making money. He never said, “Hey, baby, I made a million dollars today, let’s go out to eat!” Both of us came from nothing, and millions of dollars hadn’t made our lives better. Sure, it made things easy and nice, but better? Not really. If anything, things were just more complicated. 

Olivia

Honestly, I always felt that money was the root of all evil. I’d see people all of sudden with wads of cash, and it had turned them into monsters. Junior would always say to me, “No, you don’t understand. They didn’t become assholes overnight. They were always like that; they just didn’t have the means to show it.”

I couldn’t wrap my brain around how that could happen. When I was a teenager, I thought earning money would make me truly happy, really complete me, but pretty fast I figured out there’s more to life than that. Life’s about family and love and putting good into the world. Since then, there have been times I’ve had millions of dollars and times I couldn’t pay my bills, and my heart’s been the same through all of it.

Same with Junior; money never changed him. He was different from all the rest. He would have been the same, good person if he’d worked from nine to five every day.

Throughout 2006, it would be something I’d have to remember— because while life couldn’t have been better at home, the Mexican drug trade was about to reach a boiling point, with all of us caught in the crosshairs.