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January 11, 2022San Diego, CA, United StatesTransnational Gangs

Decade-long ICE HSI investigation leads to prison sentence for Sinaloa Cartel associate

SAN DIEGO – After a nearly decade-long U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) investigation, a drug trafficker and money launderer received a sentence of more than 15 years in federal prison Jan. 10.

For his role in supervising and managing couriers who helped smuggle bulk cash across the U.S.-Mexico border, Roberto Gallegos-Lechuga, 39, of Sinaloa, Mexico, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit international money laundering in July 2021.

Gallegos-Lechuga’s prison sentence is the latest in several sentences handed out following an HSI San Diego investigation that began in 2012. HSI San Diego began investigating a money laundering organization operating in the U.S. and Mexico. Through its investigation, HSI determined that individuals working on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel coordinated the smuggling of large amounts of bulk currency through the Southern California ports of entry.

“Today’s sentencing is the culmination of years of relentless work by Homeland Security Investigations and its partners targeting the Sinaloa Cartel,” said HSI San Diego Special Agent in Charge Chad Plantz. “This investigation highlights HSI’s dedication to go after both cartel drug trafficking and money laundering activity. The sentencing sends a resounding message to transnational criminal organizations that HSI and our partners are unyielding in our pursuit of justice.”

The investigation revealed that individuals linked to the Sinaloa Cartel used money services businesses and currency brokers to recruit money couriers to transport bulk cash from various locations throughout Southern California and other parts of the U.S., then deliver it to stash houses in Mexico. Once in Mexico, the currency was exchanged at a favorable rate from U.S. Dollars to Mexican Pesos. The cartel also used fictitious entities to deposit repatriated U.S. currency in U.S. banks.

Gallegos-Lechuga, who was extradited from Mexico to San Diego in August 2018, is one of eight individuals, including Omar Ayon-Diaz, Osvaldo Contreras-Arriaga, Cesar Hernandez-Martinez, Gibran Rodriguez-Mejia, Oscar Rodriguez-Guevara, Bianca Acedo Ojeda and Joel Acedo Ojeda, to plead guilty and receive federal prison sentences for their roles in the conspiracy. Approximately 20 additional individuals have all pleaded guilty and received various sentences for their roles related to the conspiracy.

HSI San Diego’s 10-year investigation into the Sinaloa Cartel resulted in the seizure of more than $6 million in illicit currency, 336 pounds of methamphetamine, 40 gallons of liquid methamphetamine, 235 pounds of cocaine, 10 pounds of heroin, and 120 pounds of marijuana.

“Those who manage drug trafficking and money laundering efforts for the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the most violent criminal organizations in the world, will continue to face justice in this district,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman for the Southern District of California. “Stopping the flow of funds to drug cartels and of deadly drugs into the United States continues to be a priority for us and our law enforcement partners.”

“Violent transnational criminal organizations like the Sinaloa Cartel pose a danger to our communities,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “They export dangerous narcotics to the United States and their illicit proceeds corrupt our financial system. We will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. I want to thank the Government of Mexico for extraditing Lechuga-Gallegos to the United States to face criminal charges. Through such partnerships, we will attack and work to dismantle dangerous drug cartels.”

HSI is a directorate of ICE and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 special agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.