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October 29, 2019Corpus Christi, TX, United StatesFinancial Crimes

Former governor of Mexico's third-largest state extradited to US for transnational money laundering prosecution in South Texas

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A former governor of the third-largest state in Mexico was extradited to the U.S. Tuesday to face charges for his role in a transnational money laundering scheme.

This Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation was conducted by the following agencies: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Drug Enforcement Administration, IRS’s Criminal Investigation Division, FBI and U.S. Marshals Service. Also participating in this investigation were the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Mexico (via the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty), and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.

Jorge Juan Torres-Lopez, 65, a former governor of Coahuila, Mexico, who has been in Mexican custody since Feb. 5, was extradited to the U.S. Oct. 29. He is scheduled for his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge B. Janice Ellington in Corpus Christi Oct. 30.

A federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment against Torres-Lopez Feb. 8, 2017. Torres-Lopez is charged in a money laundering scheme that includes offenses against a foreign nation involving bribery of a public official, and misappropriation, theft and embezzlement of public funds by or for the benefit of a public official. He is also charged with bank fraud and wire fraud. 

This case is related to previous civil litigation in which authorities seized two foreign bank accounts located in Bermuda. Torres-Lopez and his former secretary of finance, Hector Javier Villarreal-Hernandez, allegedly opened these accounts to conceal stolen monies. 

Sun Secured Advantage and N.T. Butterfield and Son Limited held these accounts which each held more than $2 million. As its basis for forfeiture, the government contended the funds were involved in a money laundering transaction, the property constituted or was derived from proceeds traceable to offenses including bribery of a public official or the misappropriation, theft or embezzlement of public funds by, or for the benefit of, a public official.

Torres-Lopez and Villarreal-Hernandez were holders of these accounts and allegedly transferred stolen Coahuila finances from Mexico into an account in Brownsville, Texas. They later transferred the money to bank accounts in Bermuda, according to court documents. Villarreal-Hernandez, 48, of Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico, was convicted in the Southern and Western Districts of Texas for money laundering offenses and is awaiting sentencing.

These charges allege the Mexican government employed Torres-Lopez from 1994 to 2011. His roles allegedly included work as the general director of Promotion and Development as secretary of Finance for the state of Coahuila, municipal president of Saltillo and interim governor of Coahuila. About December 2005, Villarreal-Hernandez was appointed as undersecretary of Program and Budget for the state of Coahuila. At the time, Torres-Lopez was his supervisor. In July 2008, Villarreal-Hernandez was appointed to the position of secretary of Finance for Coahuila, where he remained until his resignation in August 2011, according to court documents. 

During his time in office, Mexican authorities reportedly began investigating Villarreal-Hernandez. At the same time, U.S. officials uncovered evidence that in 2008 both Torres-Lopez and Villarreal-Hernandez allegedly opened accounts at J.P. Morgan Chase Bank in Brownsville. The charges allege they used these accounts to move monies to offshore accounts in Bermuda. The two used stolen funds from the Mexican federal government and the state of Coahuila.  

If convicted of money laundering, Torres-Lopez faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a possible $500,000 fine, twice the value of the monetary instrument or funds involved in the transaction — or both. Bank fraud and wire fraud carry 30- and 20-year terms of imprisonment, respectively, as well as up to $1 million and $250,000 in potential fines. 

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Julie K. Hampton, Jon Muschenheim and Lance A. Watt, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting this case. 

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.  A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.