Owner of Colorado Car Dealership Sentenced for Structuring and Money Laundering
DENVER – Raul Mendoza, age 51, of Denver, Colorado was sentenced on November 20, 2015 by U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson to serve 48 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, the United States Attorney John Walsh announced, along with Special Agents in Charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Judge Jackson also ordered the forfeiture of 19 vehicles and currency in the amount of $5,277.16.
According to the indictment and plea agreement, beginning in February 2008 and continuing through May 2012, Raul Mendoza (Mendoza) and Isidro Noe Mendoza-Ortiz (Mendoza-Ortiz), conspired with each other and others to structure currency (the depositing of cash in amounts just under $10,000) by depositing transactions with the intent to evade the reporting requirements as required by law. Daily cash receipts from the business Chopeque Auto Sales, which is owned by Mendoza and located at 6011 Quebec Street, in Commerce City, were received at the business and structured into separate accounts at various banks to avoid the $10,000 reporting requirements. From February 26, 2008 through May 29, 2012, they structured over 700 deposits totaling $4,543,714.
As part of the conspiracy, on March 8, 2012, Mendoza and Julia Castillo-Caraveo (Castillo-Caraveo), knowingly caused Chopeque Auto Sales, a non-financial trade or business, to fail to file a Federal IRS From 8300, a report required by law for all currency transactions over $10,000 received by a business. Particularly, they sold a 2008 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 in exchange for $20,900 that was represented by undercover law enforcement officers to be the proceeds of a specified unlawful activity (drug distribution) and that they did so in order to conceal the nature of the specified unlawful activity and to avoid IRS Form 8300 reporting requirements.
Mendoza, along with his co-conspirators, conspired to conceal the nature and source of the specified unlawful activity and attempted to launder drug proceeds. Particularly, Chopeque Auto Sales sold automobiles to known drug dealers, prepared false documents relating to the sale of vehicles to known drug dealers, structured currency deposits to conceal the source, and falsely claimed to law enforcement authorities to be a valid lien holder of a seized vehicle in order to assist a known drug dealer in seeking the return of the vehicle.
“Money is the fuel that drives and motivates drug dealers, and for that reason, laundering drug money is a serious federal offense,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh. “During the investigation of a drug trafficking organization, it was determined that this car dealer was laundering proceeds to hide illegal conduct. Thanks to banking laws, it was one key way law enforcement was able to identify the dealership’s involvement in the unlawful activity.”
“This is a great example of law enforcement agencies working together as we each brought our expertise to the table. As with this case, IRS CI Special Agents fill a unique role in the war on drugs; because of our financial background and expertise, we are able to follow the money trail and focus on money laundering activities and the seizure of assets derived from the drug proceeds,” said Steven A. Osborne, Acting Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation, Denver Field Office.
“Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is committed to working with its federal, state and local partners to investigate crimes and bring those to justice who attempt to conceal and launder money to fund illegal activities, in this case a drug trafficking operation,” said David A. Thompson, special agent in charge of HSI Denver. “Dismantling drug trafficking operations is a critical aspect of our investigations and a vital step in combatting crime as a whole and making our communities safer.”
“Individuals who assist in or facilitate the illegal activities of drug traffickers will also be held accountable for their actions,” stated Barbra Roach, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Denver Field Division. “DEA will target all levels of these criminal enterprises.”
This case was investigated by agents with IRS-Criminal Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration and Homeland Security Investigations with assistance from the Denver Police Department, Commerce City Police Department, Thornton Police Department, and the Colorado Department of Revenue – Auto Industry Division.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Celeste Rangel and Stephanie Podolak. The asset forfeiture was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tonya Andrews.