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Eight Arrested in Funnel Account Conspiracy Related to Marijuana Trafficking

MAY 20 (CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas) - Five men and three women have been arrested today as a result of the efforts of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation dubbed “Operation Prototype,” announced Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Arabit and United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson.

The four-count indictment was returned under seal April 23, 2014, and unsealed today upon the arrest of Francisco R. Canchola, 39, Antonio Medina Soto, 24, Efren Amescua, 39, Brenda Amescua, 19, Luz Medina, 36, Carlos Flores, 26, Maria D. Amescua, 43, all of Mission, and Prudencio Villalobos, 45, of Jackson, Ga.

The defendants have or will make their initial appearances before U.S. magistrate judges in Atlanta, McAllen and Houston, at which time the U.S. expects to seek the continued detention of all defendants without bond pending further criminal proceedings.

All are charged with conspiracy to launder monetary instruments and two counts of conspiracy to structure transactions to avoid currency reporting requirements. If convicted of the money laundering conspiracy, they each face up to 20 years in prison as well as a maximum of 10 years in federal prison for each of the structuring counts. 

Canchola and Soto are charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 1000 kilograms of marijuana. If convicted, they will face no less than 10 years and up to life in federal prison.

Also included in the indictment is a notice of the government’s intent to seek the forfeiture of eight bank accounts held at Wells Fargo Bank and Bank of America as well as a the intent to seek personal money judgments in the amount of $700,000 against all defendants. 

The investigation leading to the criminal charges was conducted in Corpus Christi lead by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Mission Police Department, Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Marshals Service. Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie K. Hampton is prosecuting.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.
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