Thirty Two Defendants Facing Federal Or State Charges Alleging The Laundering Of Over $100 Million In Narcotics Proceeds Through Cash-For-Gold Scheme
CHICAGO — Thirty-one defendants face federal money laundering charges for their roles in a conspiracy that allegedly laundered more than $100 million in drug proceeds for the Mexico-based Sinaloa Cartel by purchasing gold, reselling it to companies in Florida and California, then transmitting the money from the United States to Mexico. One additional defendant faces state money laundering charges in DuPage County. The federal charges, contained in a criminal complaint, stem from a multi-year investigation of money laundering and drug trafficking led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), together with other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
Agents this week seized 12 firearms while arresting 12 of the federal defendants. Ten of those defendants were arrested in the Chicago area, and two werearrested in Kentucky and Georgia. Four federal defendants, including two of the alleged conspiracy leaders, were already in state or federal custody. Fifteen defendants are fugitives, several of whom are believed to be in Mexico. Agents also arrested the defendant facing state charges. Prior to this week’s arrests, in the course of the three-and-a-half-year investigation, agents seized more than $2.8 million in U.S. currency, 28 firearms, 42 kilograms of cocaine (92 pounds), and over two tons of marijuana, as well as large amounts of heroin and methamphetamine.
Thirty-one of the defendants were charged with conspiring to launder narcotics proceeds for the Sinaloa Cartel in a 311-page criminal complaint that was filed Monday in U.S. District Court and unsealed following the arrests Tuesday morning. The federal defendants arrested yesterday in the Chicago area appeared before Magistrate Judge Daniel Martin in U.S. District Court yesterday and eight remain in federal custody pending detention hearings scheduled for later this week.
Alleged conspiracy leaders DIEGO PIENDA-SANCHEZ, 30, and CARLOS PARRA-PEDROZA, 31, were arrested on related money laundering charges in late-September 2014, while visiting the United States from their native Guadalajara, Mexico. A federal grand jury charged both men by indictment in December 2014, with multiple counts of money laundering based on four of the 49 separate instances of money laundering noted in the complaint filed on Monday. That case is currently before Judge Harry D. Leinenweber in U.S. District Court.
The charges were announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, with Gary Hartwig, Special Agent-in-Charge of HSI in Chicago; James C. Lee, Special Agent-in-Charge of IRS’s Criminal Investigation Division; and Carl J. Vasilko, Special Agent-in-Charge of ATF in Chicago. The following agencies also provided significant assistance in the investigation: the Drug Enforcement Administration; Cook County Sheriff’s Office; DuPage County Sheriff’s Office; Chicago Police Department; Buffalo Grove Police Department; the Joliet Metropolitan Area Narcotics Squad, and the United States Marshals Service. The investigation was conducted under the umbrella of the United States Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF).
“The drug trade is driven by money earned at the expense of countless devastated lives and ravaged communities,” said Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. “These charges reflect the tireless work of federal, state, and local authorities to stop not only those individuals who make that destructive business possible, but profitable.”
“Chicago is a hub for narcotics money laundering, with dirty money changing hands all too often in public parking lots throughout the city and suburbs,” said Special Agent-in-Charge Hartwig. “Criminals are turning to sophisticated trade-based schemes to launder their money and cover their tracks, but these arrests should serve as a stern warning to those doing business with drug traffickers – you will ultimately pay the price.”
Special Agent in Charge James C. Lee of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division (IRS CI) in Chicago added, “IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to fighting the war on drugs. IRS CI brings, and will continue to bring, its financial expertise to disrupt and dismantle the Sinaloa Cartel’s drug trafficking organization.”
The complaint alleges that Pineda-Sanchez, Parra-Pedroza, and 29 associates laundered more than $100 million in drug proceeds since 2011 for the Sinaloa Cartel. The defendants’ money laundering activities on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel spanned throughout the Unites States, including; Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, California, Texas, and North Carolina. Pineda-Sanchez and Parra-Pedroza are high ranking Mexico-based money brokers who allegedly used a network of individuals in Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, and Los Angeles to launder illicit drug proceeds through a gold-based scheme. According to the complaint, Pineda-Sanchez, Parra-Pedroza, and others routinely directed United States based members of their organization to collect narcotics proceeds, to use the money to purchase scrap and fine gold from local businesses, and to ship that gold to refineries based in Florida and California. The refineries in turn transmitted the cash value of the gold to Parra-Pedroza and other co-conspirators in Mexico.
As part of the undercover law enforcement operation, HSI Chicago collected more than $4.5 million in drug proceeds from 38 different money couriers on 49 occasions between June 2013 and August 2014.
The complaint details several instances in which Parra-Pedroza warned a confidential informant, who was working with law enforcement, of the dangers of losing drug money entrusted to the organization. In one such instance, Parra-Pedroza told the informant about unidentified Mexican associates who had coerced a man to accept responsibility for losing their drugs or money by “cut[ting] his fingers off.”
The money laundering complaint charges Pineda-Sanchez, Parra-Pedroza, and the following co-defendants with one count each of conspiring to commit money laundering: Jose Abel Mendoza-Parra, 22, of Mexico; Maria Loera-Alvarado, 36, of Mexico; Ernesto Ruiz-Ramirez, 25, of Joliet, Illinois; Mario Herrera, of Chicago; Anthony Leiva, 53, of Northlake, Illinois; Teodocio Caro, 54, of Mexico; Luis Reyna-Tellez, 19, of Cicero, Illinois; Hector Chavez-Cuevas, 36, of Cicero, Illinois; Juan Carlos Nunez-Galvez, of Berwyn, Illinois; Jose Sanantonio, 28, of Berwyn; Pedro Saucedo-Palominos, 42, of Chicago; Omar Lopez-Cabrera, 32, of Chicago; Virgil Durbin, 47, of Kentucky; Valentin Rodriguez, 37, of Markham, Illinois; Alma Lorena Ortiz de Rosas Vera, 38, of Mexico; Casmiro Isias-Padilla, 37, of Chicago; Efren Mota, 48, of Chicago; Felix Lemus-Guevara, 29, of Georgia; Pedro Urquiza-Osorio, 53, of Texas; Luis Armando Acosta-Vizcarra, 43, of Mexico; Joel Estrada, 27, of Chicago; Harranah Samori, 42, of Matteson, Illinois; Gabriel Salcedo, 53, of Berwyn; Tomas Salgado-Reyna, 30, Chicago; Oscar Acosta, 36, Melrose Park, Illinois; Federico Barrera-Perez, 45, of Chicago; Emmanuel Diaz, 28, of Naperville, Illinois; Jose Hernandez-Ochoa, 28, of Berwyn; Alfonso Nevarez, 40, of Northlake; and Oscar Montes-Lamas (deceased). Jaime Cabadas-Barajas, 30, of Chicago, faces one count of state money laundering charges in DuPage County.
If convicted, the defendants charged with federal money laundering face a maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of $500,000 or twice the gross gain or loss resulting from the charged offense.
The government is represented by Assistant United States Attorneys Peter M. Flanagan and Ryan P. Fayhee, and by Special Assistant United States Attorney Minnie D. Yuen.
The public is reminded that complaints contain only charges and are not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.