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Southern Arizona couple pleads guility to running criminal enterprise

PHOENIX — A Sierra Vista couple who sold marijuana and laundered drug money for more than 10 years pleaded guilty Friday to state charges of conducting a criminal enterprise, following a multiagency investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and several other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

According to an announcement Friday by Arizona's attorney general, Juan Manuel Alvarado-Fajardo and Neriah Kidebar Morin-Alvarado admitted in a plea agreement they transported marijuana in order to sell it and laundered their drug proceeds by purchasing Sierra Vista-area properties. They each face a maximum sentence of nearly nine years in prison.

Prosecutors say the married couple conducted their criminal enterprise from at least January 2000 through October 2012. The extent of their operation was revealed in October 2012, when authorities served a search warrant and discovered assets in excess of $133,000 in bank accounts and safe deposit boxes and 10 vehicles and 11 properties owned by them. Under the terms of their plea agreement the couple will forfeit eight vehicles, all but one of their properties and all of the money seized during the investigation.

The Alvarados are scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 12 at the Cochise County Superior Court.

This case was a joint investigation conducted by HSI, DEA and the Special Investigation Section of the Arizona Attorney General's Office with assistance from the U.S. Border Patrol, the Sierra Vista and Bisbee police departments, the Cochise County Sheriff's Department and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System's Office of the Inspector General. The case was prosecuted by the Border Crimes Enforcement Section of the Arizona Attorney General's Office.