By Fiona Ortiz
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Two brothers who ran a Chicago distribution hub for Mexican drug cartels and then became informants who helped the U.S. government convict more than a dozen drug dealers, were sentenced to 14 years in prison on Tuesday in federal court.
Starting in 2008, Pedro and Margarito Flores became witnesses for drug agents and helped state prosecutors build several big cases against drug dealers in the United States, according to a government sentencing memorandum filed in this month.
Prosecutors praised the brothers for their cooperation, and had asked for 10 years in prison, at the low end of the recommended range for the crimes they committed.
But U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo said he imposed the higher sentence "in light of the devastation you caused this city and your country."
For several years beginning in 2005, the Flores brothers handled major shipments of cocaine and other drugs for the Sinaloa and Beltran Leyva cartels, which they received in Chicago and redistributed to dealers in Philadelphia, New York, Detroit and other cities.
Their operation moved 1,500 to 2,000 kilograms of cocaine into Chicago every month, and sent about $1.8 billion dollars in proceeds back to Mexico.
Castillo said the brothers were the biggest drug dealers he had seen in 20 years on the bench. Their operations between 2005 and 2008 "became a highway of drugs coming into this city," Castillo said.
The Flores brothers have a long criminal history, prosecutors noted, but they also became informants at great personal risk.
Their father was kidnapped in Mexico and presumed killed by drug gangs after the cartels learned the brothers had turned into witnesses against them, the prosecutor's sentencing memorandum says.
"Having cooperated against not only the leadership of the cartels, but also their sons, family members and closest associates, the Flores brothers would in all likelihood be killed absent their protection from the government," the sentencing memorandum states.
The brothers pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges. Before sentencing, they apologized for their crimes.
Castillo in November sentenced Mexican drug trafficker, Alfredo Vazquez Hernandez, to 22 years in prison for shipping 276 kg of cocaine to Chicago hidden in railway cars. The case was largely built on testimony from the Flores brothers.
(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Doina Chiacu)