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February 10, 2015Chicago, IL, United StatesTransnational Gangs

32 defendants face federal or state charges in Illinois alleging laundering more than $100 million in drug proceeds through cash-for-gold scheme

CHICAGO — Thirty-one defendants face federal money laundering charges for their roles in a conspiracy that allegedly laundered more than $100 million in drug proceeds for the Mexico-based Sinaloa Cartel in a cash-for-gold scheme; one other defendant faces state money laundering charges in DuPage County, Illinois.

The federal charges, contained in a criminal complaint, stem from a multi-year money laundering and drug trafficking investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), together with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

Agents this week seized 12 firearms while arresting 12 of the federal defendants. Ten of those defendants were arrested in the Chicago area; two were arrested in Kentucky and Georgia. Four federal defendants, including two of the alleged conspiracy leaders, were already in state or federal custody. Fifteen defendants are fugitives, and several may be in Mexico. Agents also arrested the defendant facing state charges.

Prior to this week’s arrests, in the course of the 3 ½-year investigation, agents seized more than $2.8 million in U.S. currency, 28 firearms, 42 kilograms of cocaine (92 pounds), more than two tons of marijuana, as well as large amounts of heroin and methamphetamine.

Thirty-one defendants were charged with conspiring to launder narcotics proceeds for the Sinaloa Cartel in a 311-page criminal complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court and unsealed Tuesday. The federal defendants arrested Feb. 10 in the Chicago area appeared Tuesday before Magistrate Judge Daniel Martin in U.S. District Court; eight remain in federal custody pending detention hearings scheduled for later this week.

Alleged conspiracy leaders Diego Pineda-Sanchez, 30, and Carlos Parra-Pedroza, 31, were arrested on related money laundering charges in September 2014 while visiting the United States from their native Guadalajara, Mexico. A federal grand jury charged both men by indictment in December 2014 with multiple counts of money laundering based on four of the 49 separate instances of money laundering noted in the complaint filed Monday. That case is currently before Judge Harry D. Leinenweber in U.S. District Court.

These charges were announced by U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon, Northern District of Illinois; with Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of HSI Chicago; James C. Lee, special agent in charge of IRS’s Criminal Investigation Division; and Carl J. Vasilko, special agent in charge of ATF in Chicago. The following agencies also provided significant assistance in this investigation: Drug Enforcement Administration; Cook County Sheriff’s Office; DuPage County Sheriff’s Office; Chicago Police Department; Buffalo Grove Police Department; the Joliet Metropolitan Area Narcotics Squad, and the U.S. Marshals Service. This investigation was conducted under the umbrella of the U.S. Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF).

“The drug trade is driven by money earned at the expense of countless devastated lives and ravaged communities,” said U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon. “These charges reflect the tireless work of federal, state and local authorities to stop not only those individuals who make that destructive business possible, but profitable.”

“Chicago is a hub for narcotics money laundering, with dirty money changing hands all too often in public parking lots throughout the city and suburbs,” said Hartwig. “Criminals are turning to sophisticated trade-based schemes to launder their money and cover their tracks. But these arrests should serve as a stern warning to those doing business with drug traffickers — you will ultimately pay the price.”

Lee added, “IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to fighting the war on drugs. IRS CI brings, and will continue to bring, its financial expertise to disrupt and dismantle the Sinaloa Cartel’s drug trafficking organization.”

The complaint alleges that Pineda-Sanchez, Parra-Pedroza, and 29 associates laundered more than $100 million in drug proceeds since 2011 for the Sinaloa Cartel. The defendants’ money laundering activities on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel spanned throughout the Unites States, including; Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, California, Texas and North Carolina. Pineda-Sanchez and Parra-Pedroza are high-ranking Mexico-based money brokers who allegedly used a network of individuals in Chicago, Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles to launder illicit drug proceeds through a gold-based scheme.

According to the complaint, Pineda-Sanchez, Parra-Pedroza and others routinely directed U.S.-based members of their organization to collect narcotics proceeds, then use this money to purchase scrap and fine gold from local businesses, and ship that gold to refineries based in Florida and California. The refineries in turn transmitted the cash value of the gold to Parra-Pedroza and other co-conspirators in Mexico.

As part of the undercover law enforcement operation, HSI Chicago collected more than $4.5 million in drug proceeds from 38 different money couriers on 49 occasions between June 2013 and August 2014.
The complaint details several instances in which Parra-Pedroza warned a confidential informant, who was working with law enforcement, of the dangers of losing drug money entrusted to the organization. In one such instance, Parra-Pedroza told the informant about unidentified Mexican associates who had coerced a man to accept responsibility for losing their drugs or money by “cut[ting] his fingers off.”

The money laundering complaint charges Pineda-Sanchez, Parra-Pedroza, and the following co-defendants with one count each of conspiring to commit money laundering:

  • Jose Abel Mendoza-Parra, 22, Maria Loera-Alvarado, 36, Alma Lorena Ortiz de Rosas Vera, 38, Luis Armando Acosta-Vizcarra, 43, and Teodocio Caro, 54, of Mexico;
  • Juan Carlos Nunez-Galvez, Gabriel Salcedo, 53, Jose Hernandez-Ochoa, 28, and Jose Sanantonio, 28, of Berwyn, Illinois;
  • Mario Herrera, Pedro Saucedo-Palominos, 42, Casmiro Isias-Padilla, 37, Efren Mota, 48, Tomas Salgado-Reyna, 30, Federico Barrera-Perez, 45, Omar Lopez-Cabrera, 32, and Joel Estrada, 27, of Chicago;
  • Luis Reyna-Tellez, 19, and Hector Chavez-Cuevas, 36, of Cicero, Illinois;
  • Ernesto Ruiz-Ramirez, 25, of Joliet, Illinois;
  • Valentin Rodriguez, 37, of Markham, Illinois;
  • Harranah Samori, 42, of Matteson, Illinois;
  • Oscar Acosta, 36, Melrose Park, Illinois;
  • Emmanuel Diaz, 28, of Naperville, Illinois; Anthony Leiva, 53;
  • Alfonso Nevarez, 40, of Northlake, Illinois;
  • Felix Lemus-Guevara, 29, of Georgia;
  • Virgil Durbin, 47, of Kentucky;
  • Pedro Urquiza-Osorio, 53, of Texas; and
  • Oscar Montes-Lamas (deceased).
  • Jaime Cabadas-Barajas, 30, of Chicago, faces one count of state money laundering charges in DuPage County.

If convicted, the defendants charged with federal money laundering face a maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment and a $500,000 fine or twice the gross gain or loss resulting from the charged offense.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Peter M. Flanagan and Ryan P. Fayhee, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Minnie D. Yuen.

The public is reminded that complaints contain charges and are not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Updated: 07/26/2019