NEW YORK – More than a dozen members of an international money laundering scheme were indicted today in federal court in Brooklyn. The indictment reveals 19 people conspired to launder tens of millions of dollars in narcotic proceeds from the United States to Colombia between 2006 and 2013. The indictments and arrests come as a result of an extensive investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Colombian National Police (CNP).
Twelve of the defendants were arrested earlier today in Colombia by members of the Colombian National Police. Four other defendants were arrested today in Queens, Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut. Three additional defendants are already in custody for previously charged crimes and will be transferred to the Eastern District of New York to be arraigned in the coming days. In addition, nine other defendants have previously been arrested in connection with this investigation and charged in separate indictments – six of those defendants have pleaded guilty to the charges.
According to the indictment and other court filings submitted by the government, the four-year investigation revealed that, between January 2006 and March 2013, individuals operating out of retail shopping malls in Cali, Colombia – known as money brokers – assisted drug trafficking organizations in Colombia by laundering the proceeds of sales of narcotics in the United States. The twelve individuals arrested in Colombia today were money brokers who operated out of the El Diamante, Gran Centro Commercial, San Andresito and Atlantis retail shopping malls in Cali.
These twelve money brokers oversaw a large network of confederates to assist in transferring millions of dollars in narcotics proceeds from narcotics distributors in the United States to narcotics suppliers in Colombia. The money brokers employed many individuals known as money movers; people responsible for collecting narcotics proceeds and disposing of those proceeds as directed by either the drug trafficking organization or the money brokers. The money movers served as go-betweens, taking the proceeds from narcotics distributors in the United States and eventually passing the money to other members of the organization, who repatriated the proceeds to Colombia.
The four individuals arrested today in the United States – and the three others already in custody on other charges – were money movers. They received phone numbers and code words from the money brokers to use to contact and identify the recipients to whom they were to deliver the narcotics proceeds. The money movers concealed and transported amounts ranging from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars in narcotics proceeds at a time, hidden within compartments in vehicles, gasoline containers, duffel bags and shoeboxes. These cash deliveries took place in locations such as parking lots of retail stores and fast food restaurants in Queens and elsewhere. At these meeting places, the money movers delivered the U.S. currency – which often was bundled and heat sealed – to other members of the organization.
"As alleged, the brokers and members of this money laundering organization orchestrated the transfer of millions of dollars in illicit narcotics proceeds to circumvent law enforcement in the United States and reap their illicit gains abroad," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York. "HSI is dedicated to combating criminal organizations by severing their financial life line."
"Money laundering is the lifeblood of the narcotics trade, both here in the US and in Colombia," said U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch, Eastern District of New York. "The individuals arrested and charged today are alleged to have worked to funnel tens of millions of dollars in narcotics proceeds out of the US and back to narcotics traffickers in Colombia. This international investigation illustrates our resolve to fight these schemes both here and abroad. As several of today's defendants have learned, distance does not insulate them from the reach of our investigation and our resolve. With these charges, we focus not just on those who moved money in the U.S. but also on those who furthered this scheme in Colombia. We and our partners in law enforcement are committed to investigating and prosecuting international drug traffickers and seizing the proceeds of their crimes. We remain relentless in this pursuit."
Ms. Lynch expressed her grateful appreciation to the Colombian National Police, particularly the Investigative Directorate and members of the HSI Transnational Criminal Investigations Unit, for their hard work and dedication throughout the investigation. Ms. Lynch also thanked the HSI Bogota and the HSI Hartford (Conn.) for their assistance. The investigation was led by agents with HSI New York serving on the El Dorado Task Force, which investigates narcotics trafficking and narcotics money laundering.
As part of the government's investigation, law enforcement officers have thus far seized more than $6.5 million in United States currency as well as 52.5 kilograms of heroin, 32 kilograms of cocaine, 63 pounds of marijuana, eight vehicles and three firearms.
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum penalty of 20 years' imprisonment.