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Financial Crimes
01/05/2017

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ICE Boston seizes nearly $20 million, arrests Brazilian national in money laundering scheme linked to TelexFree

ICE Boston seizes nearly $20 million, arrests Brazilian national in money laundering scheme linked to TelexFree

BOSTON — Federal special agents in Massachusetts seized $19.4 million in cash and arrested a Brazilian national late Wednesday in connection with a money laundering conspiracy, which was part of the massive TelexFree pyramid scheme.

This seizure and arrest resulted from a complex investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with the assistance of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), Massachusetts State Police, Bristol County Sheriff’s Department, and the police departments of the Massachusetts cities of Boston, Hudson and Westborough.

Cleber Rene Rizerio Rocha, 28, a Brazilian national living in Westborough, Massachusetts, was charged via criminal complaint with one count of conspiring to commit money laundering. Rocha was ordered detained following an appearance Thursday before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Judith G. Dein.

According to the complaint, in April 2014, HSI special agents searched the headquarters of TelexFree, Inc., in Marlborough, Massachusetts. Later that day, Carlos Wanzeler, one of the founders of the company, allegedly fled to Brazil, his native country, where he has since remained. Wanzeler and TelexFree co-founder James Merrill were indicted in July 2014 on charges that they operated TelexFree as a massive pyramid scheme. Merrill pleaded guilty to those charges in October 2016 and is awaiting sentencing.

The Rocha complaint alleges that an intermediary working on Wanzeler’s behalf contacted an associate for help transferring millions of dollars of TelexFree money – still hidden in the greater Boston area – from the United States to Brazil. The associate, who subsequently became a cooperating witness for the government, allegedly arranged with Wanzeler’s nephew in Brazil to launder the cash through Hong Kong, convert it to Brazilian Reals, and transfer it to Brazilian accounts.  

According to court documents, Rocha, acting as a courier for Wanzeler’s nephew, flew from Brazil to JFK Airport in New York City a few days ago.  On Wednesday, Rocha met the cooperating witness at a restaurant in Hudson and allegedly gave him $2.2 million in a suitcase.   After the meeting, agents followed Rocha to an apartment complex in Westborough, Mass., and later arrested him.  That night, federal agents searched an apartment at the Westborough complex and seized a massive stockpile of cash hidden in a box spring.  The cash totals $19.4 million.

The charging statute provides for a sentence of no greater than 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater.  Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Andrew E. Lelling and Neil J. Gallagher, Jr., are prosecuting the case.

The details in the complaint are allegations. The defendant is presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 01/09/2017