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$1.7 million sought following HSI money-laundering probe

NEWARK, N.J. —The federal government filed a civil forfeiture complaint Monday against more than $1.7 million in alleged illegal drug profits previously seized from cellular phone wholesale company Cellular Next LLC, which allegedly laundered the money through the Black Market Peso Exchange (BMPE). The forfeiture complaint filed by New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman follows an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Newark field office, as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the New York Drug Enforcement Task Force (NYDETF)

According to the complaint filed Monday in Newark federal court, Cellular Next, which operates out of New York and Miami, and is registered as a business entity in New Jersey, has a history of receiving proceeds from illegal drug sales. HSI Newark special agents along with DEA and NYDETF investigators acting in an undercover capacity sent wire transfers of these illegal proceeds to the company at the direction of BMPE brokers based in Colombia.

"Drug traffickers and other criminals often employ complex schemes in an attempt to convert their ill-gotten proceeds into legitimate dollars," said HSI Newark Special Agent in Charge Andrew McLees. "This case illustrates a strong partnership between HSI and its law enforcement partners to identify, disrupt and destroy a criminal enterprise that posed a significant threat to public safety."

The BMPE is a currency exchange system which uses illegal drug proceeds in the United States to pay for goods that then are shipped to Colombia. It is the primary method used by Colombian drug traffickers to launder their illicit funds. The recipients in Colombia pay for those goods in pesos, which are then forwarded to the drug traffickers. The system allows traffickers to launder and transport their drug proceeds through the United States financial system by using domestic accounts held by businesses or individuals doing business in the United States. Seizure and forfeiture actions are aimed at disrupting and destroying the flow of these narcotics dollars by targeting the domestic accounts and the entities that receive these illicit funds.

Representatives of Cellular Next have, on numerous occasions, received narcotics proceeds without asking for the appropriate identification or filing the appropriate paperwork to comply with the Bank Secrecy Act, which was designed to combat money laundering. Cellular Next also has a history of having its bank accounts closed by financial institutions for misuse, for having allowed large numbers of structured cash deposits from at least 2010 through 2013.

One money laundering customer sent the $1.7 million the government seeks to forfeit to Cellular Next LLC using BMPE. As the investigation is ongoing, no additional information can be released at this time.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Evan S. Weitz of the U.S. Attorney's Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Unit.