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Contraband
07/29/2013

Arizona married couple in a $3 million marijuana and money laundering conspiracy sentenced to more than 10 years in prison

GREENBELT, Md. – An Arizona couple who were leaders in a drug and money laundering conspiracy to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana were sentenced Monday to more than 10 years in federal prison.

Jose Valenzuela, 59, and his wife Beatriz Valenzuela, 56, both of Nogales, Ariz., were sentenced to 137 months and 125 months in prison, respectively, each followed by five years of supervised release by U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. The Valenzuelas also forfeited bank accounts worth $1,265,740.65 and $970,000 in cash.

The sentence follows an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore and Phoenix and the Prince George’s County Police Department.

"This case is an excellent example of how the teamwork between HSI and the Prince George’s County Police Department in dismantling a drug trafficking and money laundering organization can benefit our communities," said William Winter, HSI special agent in charge in Baltimore. "HSI works aggressively to keep illegal drugs out of our communities, and to dismantle the criminal networks that profit from drug trafficking and the crime that surrounds it."

According to the Valenzuelas’ guilty pleas, between June 6, 2011, and July 9, 2012, Jose and Beatriz Valenzuela used package shipping businesses they owned to ship marijuana from Arizona to Maryland and received proceeds in return.

Antonio Hill Jr. coordinated the shipment of drugs from Arizona to Maryland and managed the laundering of the proceeds to the sources of supply in Arizona, with the assistance of his brother, Erico Hill, who also coordinated the distribution of the marijuana in Maryland.

Conspirators James Lewis Jr., Ernest Rawlings Jr., Errol Comma and Jane Nkemateh all assisted in the receipt of packages containing marijuana from Arizona.

Lewis Davis and Kenneth Davis further assisted in the repackaging of marijuana for distribution in Maryland and the laundering of the proceeds to the sources of supply in Arizona.

Law enforcement executed search warrants at the Valenzuelas’ home and businesses July 11, 2012.

HSI special agents recovered $970,000 in cash from their home and more than 750 pounds of marijuana from the businesses.

According to their plea agreements, in order to evade IRS filing requirements for transactions involving more than $10,000 in cash, and conceal from the government large cash transactions by narcotics dealers, Jose and Beatriz Valenzuela arranged for conspirators to deposit the proceeds of the scam into bank accounts they controlled, with each transaction being less than $10,000.

Some of those accounts were in the names of third parties.

Antonio Hill Jr., aka NuNu, 33, of Largo, Md.; Erico Hill, aka Rico, 31, of Hyattsville, Md.; James Lewis Jr., aka Little Man, 23, of Hyattsville; Kenneth Davis, aka Benny, 25, of Hyattsville; Ernest Rawlings Jr., aka Junior, 30, of Riverdale, Md.; and Errol Comma, aka E, 31, of Lanham, Md., have all pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy and are awaiting sentencing.

Jane Nkemateh, aka Jayne Nekematah, 29, of New Carrollton, Md., also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to forfeit bank accounts worth more than $1.2 million.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mara Zusman Greenberg and Christen A. Sproule in the District of Maryland.