Eleven Individuals Charged following Investigation of Drug Money Laundering in the Money Remitter Industry
ATLANTA - Eleven defendants have been charged with laundering drug money to Mexico through metro-Atlanta area money remitters during a three-year long federal investigation focused on money laundering by money remittance businesses.
“Using money remitters to launder illegal drug proceeds is just one more way drug cartels fuel their criminal enterprises,” said U. S. Attorney John Horn. “The business model of many Mexican cartels requires a means to get their cash profits across the border and into the hands of the supervisors and sellers. This investigation shows that they may have found an effective means through unscrupulous money remitters. We hope these cases will help to close this pipeline.”
“The criminal network uncovered by this investigation laundered millions of dollars in illegal drug proceeds back to Mexico and provided direct support to the drug trafficking organizations plaguing the region with dangerous illicit narcotics and the violence associated with drug trafficking activities,” said ICE Homeland Security Investigations Atlanta Special Agent in Charge Nick Annan. “HSI will continue to focus investigative efforts on dismantling and bringing to justice members of drug trafficking organizations and all those complicit in their activities.”
“Narcotics traffickers will attempt to create elaborate financial networks in an effort to launder illegal drug proceeds,” stated Acting Special Agent in Charge James E. Dorsey. “IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to peel back every intricate layer used to launder those proceeds and expose everyone involved.”
According to U.S. Attorney Horn, the indictments, and other information presented in court: In 2014, federal law enforcement agents began investigating individuals in the metro-Atlanta area that were suspected of laundering drug proceeds to Mexico. Federal agents utilized cooperating sources to infiltrate these individuals’ networks and determined that the money launderers frequently used small businesses to send funds out of the country via money remittance services. These small businesses allow customers to wire funds to individuals in other countries without using traditional bank accounts.
Investigators determined that managers and employees of a number of metro-Atlanta money remitters were knowingly helping the money launderers send drug proceeds to Mexico. During the course of the investigation, cooperating sources and an undercover law enforcement officer brought money that was represented as coming from drug sales to different remitters. The cooperating sources or undercover law enforcement officer made clear that the money came from the sale of illegal narcotics. In exchange for a kickback, managers and employees of nine different businesses allegedly agreed to launder purported drug funds to Mexico by breaking the transactions into smaller amounts and by listing fake sender names, addresses, and telephone numbers.
The investigation revealed that these nine money remitters allegedly transmitted more than $40 million over a roughly four-year timeframe. Federal agents determined that these remitters transmitted thousands of wires to individuals in Mexico that listed fake addresses and telephone numbers, which is how the bulk of the undercover proceeds were laundered.
The indictments allege that the defendants tried to conceal the source of the funds by circumventing the Bank Secrecy Act, which requires financial institutions - including money remitters - to monitor their clients for suspicious conduct and to obtain valid identification for high dollar remittances. The defendants allegedly kept their transfers under certain dollar amounts to avoid raising suspicion. Several of the defendants allegedly served as the Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering (“BSA/AML”) Compliance Officers for their respective stores and were responsible for detecting and reporting these types of illicit financial transactions.
Federal agents conducted search warrants at several metro-Atlanta area money remitters and arrested nine defendants. The following individuals were arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Russell G. Vineyard:
Oscar Gustavo Perez-Bernal, 34, of Atlanta, Georgia. Oscar Perez-Bernal was the manager and BSA/AML Compliance Officer at La Tienda and Cocina Linda Vista, which were both located in Chamblee, Georgia. From 2013 to 2017, these two stores allegedly transmitted over $16.9 million.
Itzayana Guadalupe Perez-Bernal, a/k/a Lupe, 24, of Norcross, Georgia. Itzayana Perez-Bernal was an employee at La Tienda.
Norma Dominguez, 57, of Atlanta, Georgia. Dominguez was the manager and BSA/AML Compliance Officer at La Veracruzana, which was located in Chamblee, Georgia. From 2013 through mid-2017, this store allegedly transmitted over $5.7 million.
Norma Carrera, 39, of Atlanta, Georgia. Carrera was the manager and BSA/AML Compliance Officer at Hilos y Estambres Teresita, which was located in Chamblee, Georgia. From 2014 through mid-2017, this store allegedly transmitted over $6.1 million.
Victor Perez, 30, of Lawrenceville, Georgia. Perez was the manager and BSA/AML Compliance Officer at Intercargo, which had offices in Lawrenceville, Georgia and Marietta, Georgia. From 2013 through 2015, this store allegedly transmitted over $7 million.
Merli Sandy Tejeda-Bermudez, a/k/a Jorhley Adadlay-Bermudez, 30, of Duluth, Georgia. Tejeda-Bermudez was the manager and BSA/Compliance Officer at Mundo Cargo and RR Latinas, which were both located in Lawrenceville, Georgia. From 2015 through mid-2017, this store allegedly transmitted over $1.5 million.
Daniel Castaneda-Garcia, 31, of Atlanta, Georgia. Castaneda-Garcia was the manager and BSA/AML Compliance Officer at Taqueria el Dany, which was located in Lawrenceville, Georgia. In 2015, this store allegedly transmitted over $300,000.
Susan Fiorella Ayala-Chavez, a/k/a Pitus, 30, of Lawrenceville, Georgia. Ayala-Chavez was an employee at the Rainforest Chevron gas station in Lawrenceville, Georgia. From 2014 through mid-2017, this store allegedly transmitted over $3 million.
Lidia Pineda-Altamarino, a/k/a Lily, 32, of Lawrenceville, Georgia.
The following individuals have been charged with money laundering, but have not yet been apprehended:
Norma Eriza-Gomez, 41, of Mexico
Marina Eriza-Gomez of Mexico.
Members of the public are reminded that the indictments only contain charges. The defendants are presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove the defendants’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
This case is being investigated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation. The Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department, Georgia State Patrol, and Powder Springs Police Department provided valuable assistance throughout the course of the investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas J. Krepp and Alison B. Prout are prosecuting the case. The Justice Department’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section provided significant assistance.
For further information, please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.