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Financial Crimes

ICE dismantles international drug trafficking and money laundering organization

Operation Rainmaker results in nearly three dozen convictions

ATLANTA, Ga. - A 57-year-old man from Bogota, Colombia, was sentenced in District Court today to 11 years and eight months in prison for his role in a conspiracy to launder the proceeds of drug trafficking. His sentencing was the result of a four-year investigation, dubbed Operation Rainmaker, by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) into the use of the black market peso exchange (BMPE) to launder large amounts of proceeds from the sale of illegal drugs sent to the United States by Colombian and Mexican drug traffickers.

The BMPE is a means by which U.S. dollars and other currencies are exchanged for Colombian pesos without incurring the taxes Colombia imposes on such transactions and without leaving a paper trail. Dollars are generally not accepted as currency in Colombia; therefore, narcotics traffickers who generate large amounts of U.S. currency through drug sales in the United States must convert those dollars to pesos to be able to spend their ill-gotten gains in Colombia.

In addition to Heriberto Torrres Moreno, who was extradited from Colombia to face charges locally, 23 other defendants entered guilty pleas to the Atlanta charges and one more, Edgar Baez, 36, of New York City, is scheduled to plead guilty on May 15, 2008, in federal court in New York. They were convicted of money laundering charges. Two other defendants, Juan Carlos Garcia Perez and Maria Isabel Barbosa-Penalosa, were also convicted of a drug offense. The sentences ranged from 27 months to over 24 years in prison. Five defendants remain fugitives.

Other defendants who pleaded guilty and were sentenced in this operation include:

  • Carlos Fabio Correa Mejia, 45, of Armenia, Quindio, Colombia
  • Cesar Gomez, 30, of Armenia, Quindio, Colombia
  • Rolfi Espitia Tocua, 33, of Bogota, Colombia
  • Carlos Alexander Tocua, 33, of Bogota, Colombia
  • Maria Isabel Barbosa Penaloza, 33, of Bogota, Colombia
  • Juan Carlos Garcia Perez, 44, of Bogota, Colombia
  • Jairo Mier-Cardenas, 38, of Bogota, Colombia
  • Helber Rueda, 32, of New York, N.Y.
  • Jorge Navarro Zuluaga, 35, of New York, N.Y.
  • Ferney Ramirez Aka Reynaldo Rojas-Gomez, 42, of New York, N.Y.
  • Alfredo Moreno-Rivera, 46, of New York, N.Y.
  • Rafael Tejeda, 46, of New York, N.Y.
  • Heriberto Lanzot, 42, of New York, N.Y.
  • Oswaldo Maya, 37, of Miami, Fla.
  • Wilson A. Candelario-Duran, 47, of Bayamon, P.R.
  • Ramon Flores, 61, of Brockton, Mass.
  • Freddy Rivera, 41, of Philadelphia, Pa.
  • Jose R. Curras Morales, 57, of Arecibo, P.R.
  • Moises Alberto Tejeda, 43, of New York, N.Y.
  • Andres Rodriguez, 33, of New York, N.Y.
  • Graciliana Monroy, 49, of New York, N.Y.
  • Manuel Baez, 52, of New York, N.Y.
  • Jose Mejia-Disla, 39, of New York, N.Y.

According to information presented in court, ICE agents posed as money launderers and laundered drug proceeds to learn about participants in the conspiracy. ICE conducted 33 pickups of drug proceeds in metro Atlanta, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, Puerto Rico and the first-ever money pickup in the Republic of Mexico. The investigation resulted in the seizure of approximately $9 million, two kilograms of heroin, 26 kilograms of cocaine and numerous state and local arrests.

The metro Atlanta money pickups occurred in 2005. On Feb. 16, 2005, undercover ICE agents met two individuals, Oscar Reyes and Engelberto Reyes-Soto, at a store parking lot in Gwinnett County, Ga., where they took the undercover agents' car to a nearby residence and placed $948,526 in drug proceeds in the car to be laundered, and returned the car to the agents. On April 6, 2005, in the same parking lot, Oscar Reyes and Rafael Perales met with undercover agents, took their car to a nearby residence, and placed $999,970 in drug proceeds in the car to be laundered before returning the car to the undercover agents.

The drug money from the two Atlanta pickups was laundered through the black market peso exchange, which resulted in the indictment of Heriberto Torres-Romero, Carlos Fabio Correa-Mejia, Cesar Gomez, Oscar Reyes, Engelberto Reyes-Soto and Rafael Perales. On April 28, 2006, following up on information developed from these Atlanta pickups, agents seized approximately $803,000 and ledgers detailing the receipt, distribution and collection of payments for multi-tons of cocaine.

Jeu Herrera-Contreras and Jaime Ayon-Franco were arrested in connection with the April 28, 2006, seizures, and charged with money laundering and drug offenses. They went to trial in April 2007. Herrera-Contreras was convicted and sentenced to 24 years, 4 months in prison. Jaime Ayon Franco was found not guilty by the jury on the drug and money laundering offenses, but entered a guilty plea to an immigration charge and was deported to Mexico.

"To attack the distribution of illegal drugs, we go after not only the drugs, but also the dirty money that the sale of this poison generates," said United States Attorney David E. Nahmias. "That is not easy, particularly with the black market peso exchange and its underground tentacles that help move huge amounts of drug money to the kingpins of the major international trafficking organizations. Operation Rainmaker faced and conquered this very difficult task, and the large numbers of arrests and convictions demonstrate its success."

"Operation Rainmaker was successful because it infiltrated the organization at all stages - from the low level members delivering large suitcases of bulk currency in the streets of the United States, to the high level Colombian nationals laundering the drug proceeds in the comfort of their overseas offices," said Kenneth A. Smith, special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Atlanta. "The sentencing of Heriberto Torres-Romero is the culmination of cooperation between multiple law enforcement agencies both domestically and internationally working together to disrupt and dismantle an entire criminal enterprise."

This case was investigated by ICE and IRE special agents with assistance from the Colombian National Police Financial Investigations Unit, the Panamanian National Police and the Office of the Procuraduria General de la Republica of Mexico.