More than $40 million worth of gold, silver and other jewelry forfeited in an international money laundering investigation have arrived in Austin, Texas, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division; Special Agent in Charge John P. Gilbride of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) New York Field Division; and Eugene C. Corcoran, U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of New York. The jewelry was originally seized as the result of a money laundering investigation that identified two companies in the Colon Free Zone in Colon, Panama, that were responsible for laundering narcotics proceeds from the United States.
"This forfeiture of more than $40 million in jewelry should remind criminals around the globe that they will be found, prosecuted and stripped of assets that are not theirs to keep," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer. "With increased international cooperation, we are steadfastly working to forfeit money launderers’ dirty assets and proving that, in fact, crime doesn’t pay."
"This unique seizure represents a model of international cooperation, persistence and diligence," said DEA Special Agent in Charge John P. Gilbride. "Criminals who attempt to thwart the efforts of international law enforcement through complex trade-based money laundering schemes will not triumph. The DEA along with our partners will continue to pursue all avenues to deny drug traffickers and money launderers the one thing they value the most – their profit."
"The U.S. Marshals Service is proud to support our partners in the Drug Enforcement Administration and international law enforcement community in this highly successful asset seizure operation. This seizure demonstrates extreme skill, utilizing technology and strategic outreach to our international partners spreading the footprints of justice and the rule of law across the globe," said Eugene C. Corcoran, U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of New York.
The investigation that resulted in this forfeiture led to the first U.S. indictment of an offshore business engaged in the illicit black market peso exchange, a money laundering operation through which narcotics proceeds earned in the United States are exchanged for Colombian pesos and then used to purchase goods in the Colon Free Zone. During the course of the investigation, Yardena Hebroni and Eliahu Mizrani were identified as major money launderers based in Panama. Hebroni and Mizrani used a wholesale jewelry business, Speed Joyeros S.A., and a related company identified as Argento Vivo S.A., to facilitate their illegal money laundering activities. Based on a joint investigation conducted with the government of Panama, Speed Joyeros S.A., Argento Vivo S.A., Hebroni and Mizrahi were charged with laundering millions of dollars in narcotics proceeds through their companies in Panama. Hebroni and both companies pleaded guilty to money laundering in the Eastern District of New York. Mizrahi, who had been a fugitive, later pleaded guilty to money laundering and was sentenced in February 2008.
According to evidence presented in the case, Hebroni and her companies were involved in a money laundering conspiracy that included coordinating and receiving drug proceeds from the United States through cash pick-ups, wire transfers, cashiers checks and third party bank checks. Specifically, Hebroni and Mizrahi operated and built Speed Joyeros S.A. and Argento Vivo S.A., which together did more than $100 million in business annually, knowing that the primarily Colombian-based customers were laundering millions of dollars in drug money from the United States through bulk purchases of jewelry. According to court documents, Speed Joyeros S.A. and Argento Vivo S.A. were heavily involved in the black market peso exchange.
During the course of the investigation, more than $2 million in U.S. currency was seized in the form of cashier and/or bank checks. Four checks totaling more than $862,000 were issued to a Panamanian-based company identified as Speed Joyeros S.A. Numerous drug-related assets were identified in Panama and later seized by Panamanian authorities in accordance with a seizure order issued in the Eastern District of New York as part of these cases.
On May 17, 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Jack B. Weinstein signed a final order of forfeiture directing that the government of Panama transfer custody of the assets seized in Panama to the government of the United States. The assets transferred to the United States include approximately 468 boxes of gold and silver jewelry, as well as gemstones and watches, weighing ten tons, seized from Speed Joyeros S.A. and Argento Vivo S.A.
This case was the first bilateral U.S./Panama investigation resulting in a Colon Free Zone company being seized and brought to justice in the United States.
The seizure and investigation was led by the DEA’s New York Field Division, Long Island District Office; DEA’s Panama Country Office; and the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section (AFMLS). The cases were prosecuted by Justice Department Trial Attorneys Laurel Loomis Rimon and Armando Bonilla, formerly of AFMLS, and Trial Attorney Eric Snyder, formerly of the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section. In addition, the U.S. Marshals Service was instrumental in the transfer of assets from Panama to the United States. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York provided assistance throughout the investigation and prosecution of these cases. The Department of Defense was also instrumental by providing a C-130 aircraft from the U.S. Air Force’s 302nd Reserve Air Wing, Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado to transport the forfeited assets back to the United States.
The forfeited assets will be liquidated, with the final proceeds from those sales placed into the Department of Justice’s Assets Forfeiture Fund. The Assets Forfeiture Fund can be used to enhance future criminal investigations, recognize the critical assistance of our foreign law enforcement counterparts and support other law enforcement initiatives.