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Press Release

Leader of Drug Trafficking Organization Admits Distributing Kilograms of Marijuana and Laundering the Proceeds Through Luxury Auto Purchases

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Illinois

CHICAGO — The leader of a Chicago drug trafficking organization pleaded guilty in federal court today to distributing more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana and laundering the proceeds by purchasing luxury cars and leasing high-rent properties.

JONATHAN TANKSON admitted in a plea agreement that he coordinated bulk shipments of marijuana from large-scale growers in California.  Between December 2010 and December 2013, Tankson flew to California at least twice per month, typically bringing with him on the plane $400,000 to $500,000 in cash.  Tankson often purchased 100 to 200 pounds of marijuana at a time, with the drugs being shipped on vans and tractor trailers to stash houses in Chicago, according to the plea agreement.  One of the stash houses was located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago, while another was set up in a penthouse apartment in the city’s River West neighborhood.

Tankson, 32, of Evanston, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess a controlled substance with the intent to deliver, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.  The conviction carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and a maximum fine of $1.5 million.

U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly scheduled a sentencing hearing for August 25, 2016, at 1:30 p.m.

According to the plea agreement, Tankson used drug proceeds to purchase several luxury automobiles through straw purchasers.  Between June 2011 and December 2013, Tankson orchestrated the purchases of a Porsche Cayenne sport utility vehicle for $140,000, a Mercedes-Benz S63 sedan for $108,000, an Audi A8 sedan for $80,000, and several other expensive vehicles, according to the plea agreement.  Tankson acknowledged in the plea agreement that the auto transactions were intended to conceal the source of the drug proceeds.

Tankson was arrested in December 2013.  During a search of his Lincoln Park stash house, law enforcement discovered more than $1 million in cash, approximately 75 kilograms of cannabis stuffed into numerous plastic bags, five suitcases filled with cannabis, 20 rounds of 9mm ammunition and two 9mm pistol magazines, according to a federal criminal complaint filed against him in January 2014. 

Investigators thereafter began an extensive money laundering investigation that led to charges against two other defendants.  An alleged straw buyer of the vehicles, SONGHANE TRAORE, of Chicago, is charged with one count of conspiracy to possess a controlled substance with the intent to deliver, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and one count of money laundering.  JEROME B. MARSHALL, of Chicago, is charged with one count of money laundering for allegedly helping Tankson to fraudulently lease the Lincoln Park apartment.

Traore and Marshall have pleaded not guilty to the charges.  Traore’s next court appearance before Judge Kennelly is scheduled for June 3, 2016, at 1:00 p.m., while Marshall will next appear before Judge Kennelly on June 13, 2016, at 10:00 a.m.

Tankson’s guilty plea was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Jeffery Magee, Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Field Division of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; James D. Robnett, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division; and Eddie T. Johnson, Chicago Police Superintendent.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kartik K. Raman.

Plea Agreement

Updated June 2, 2016

Drug Trafficking