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November 2, 2023San Diego, CA, United StatesFinancial Crimes

HSI San Diego and partner agency case results in illicit money transmitters admitting to criminal scheme to funnel money to Nevada casino

SAN DIEGO — Two Mexican nationals and their unlicensed money transmitting business admitted in federal court on Oct. 27 that they illegally helped foreign gamblers move money stealthily through the U.S. financial system to avoid scrutiny by U.S. and foreign law enforcement and regulators. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the IRS’ Criminal Investigations’ Las Vegas Financial Crimes Task Force investigated this case.

Carma de Monterrey SA de CV, a Mexican corporation headquartered in Monterrey, Mexico, and the defendants admitted they conspired to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business on behalf of foreign patrons of the casino industry.

Name Age Location Case Number
Francisco Alberto Garza-Vargas 59 San Pedro Garza Garcia, Mexico 23-CR-0219-DMS
Ricardo Najera-Almaguer 68 San Pedro Garza Garcia, Mexico 23-CR-0219-DMS
Carma de Monterrey S.A. de CV   Monterrey, Mexico 22-CR-0219-DMS
Juan Carlos Palermo 64 Buenos Aires, Argentina 22-CR-0859-DMS

Garza-Vargas was previously a registered agent with the Nevada Gaming Commission. Casinos typically contract with such agents to be a liaison between casinos and high-rolling guests. These agents bring players into a particular casino, and in return, they are compensated with commission by that casino.

According to court documents, the defendants’ unlicensed money transmitting enterprise conducted more than 115 illegal transfers with bank accounts controlled by the casino industry in the aggregate amount of approximately $8,129,664.

These cases bring to 15 the total number of defendants who have admitted wrongdoing in this investigation into money laundering, unlicensed money transmitting and other crimes, with associated criminal penalties of over $7.5 million.

During the hearing, U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw accepted Garza-Vargas’ and Najera-Almaguer’s deferred prosecution agreements and the corporation’s guilty plea and ordered the defendants to pay criminal fines and other financial penalties totaling $3,198,397.

According to court documents, the defendants conducted financial transactions for casino patrons located abroad who sought to gamble in the United States. To have funds available for that purpose in the United States, the defendants transferred the patrons’ funds through a series of bank accounts controlled by the corporation defendant and others into casino-controlled bank accounts. The circuitous transfers helped patrons evade laws and regulations designed to prevent money laundering.

As a result of not registering their money transmitting business, not maintaining an anti-money laundering program, and not filing required suspicious activity reports or currency transaction reports, the defendants were able to conceal the sources of funds. This conduct obscured the nature of the transactions from other United States-based financial institutions and inhibited the ability of law enforcement and other authorities to investigate.

The proceedings follow a similar resolution as that of defendant Juan Carlos Palermo on April 20, 2022, who in a related case admitted to money laundering in the promotion of his own unlicensed money transmitting business. Since October 2012, while acting as an agent for one casino, defendant Palermo operated multiple unlicensed businesses in the United States and abroad that conducted more than 200 transfers with bank accounts controlled by multiple casino entities, over $17.7 million, on behalf of at least 50 casino gambling patrons.

Between approximately 2012 and 2020, defendant Palermo and his unlicensed money transmitting business transacted with clients, and related financial accounts, in at least 15 countries, including countries that the U.S. Department of State has identified as “Major Money Laundering Countries” of “primary concern” like Mexico, Argentina, Cayman Islands, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong. The Palermo money transmitting business’ use of these bank accounts and other financial services allowed clients to conduct international monetary transfers through underground financial networks engaged in transferring funds, exchanging currency and other money transmitting and remitting services, while circumventing laws and regulations regarding monetary transfer and reporting in the United States and elsewhere.

This case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California.

HSI is 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 more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.