Money Laundering Conspirators Sentenced to Prison
CAMDEN, N.J. – A McKinney, Texas, man was sentenced today to 15 months in prison for conspiring to launder $200,000, which he believed was derived from the sale of narcotics, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.
John Eckerd, 55, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Renee Marie Bumb to an information charging him with one count of conspiracy to launder money. Judge Bumb imposed the sentence today in Camden federal court.
Eckerd’s conspirator, Anthony Romano, 53, of Springfield, New Jersey, was sentenced by Judge Bumb on Sept. 26, 2019, to 54 months in prison for his role in conspiring to launder over $590,000 in United States currency.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Between September 2017 and December 2017, Romano engaged in 10 separate money laundering transactions with an undercover agent. The agent and Romano met at various locations in Atlantic County, New Jersey, to discuss ways to conceal the origin of the money and to exchange the cash. Romano received bags of cash ranging in amounts of $10,000 to $60,000. The undercover agent represented to both Romano and Eckerd that the cash was derived from selling drugs on behalf of a South American drug cartel.
In exchange for the cash, Romano provided the agent with various business checks, less a fee that Romano charged for performing the illegal transaction. Several business checks were from shell companies that Romano formed in order to conceal and disguise the nature of the transaction.
Twenty days after Romano’s initial meeting with the undercover agent, Romano spoke to the agent about laundering larger sums of cash through an associate – Eckerd – in Texas. At the time, Eckerd was allegedly building a high-end underground residential bunker development outside of Dallas. The development project was marketed as a five-star doomsday escape for the wealthy with DEFCON 1 preparedness and allegedly capable of withstanding catastrophic events ranging from viral epidemics to nuclear war. Through this development project, it was represented to the undercover agent that Eckerd could launder larger amounts of cash without risking the scrutiny of law enforcement.
By January 2018, Romano and Eckerd were prepared to escalate the monetary amounts involved in the laundering activity. The first transaction of 2018 involving Romano, Eckerd and the undercover agent served as a test case to show the supposed members of the South American drug cartel that Romano and Eckerd could expeditiously launder larger sums of cash. In January 2018, the undercover agent handed Romano $100,000 in cash at a location in New Jersey. Instead of receiving a business check in return, the undercover agent agreed to receive the money, less the standard fee, in the form of a wire transaction originating from Eckerd.
The following month, the undercover agent met with Romano and Eckerd in Texas to engage in a second test case. The day after driving out to the site of the development project, the undercover agent turned over a backpack containing $100,000 in cash to Romano and Eckerd. In exchange, Eckerd handed the undercover agent a check, less their standard fee for laundering the alleged narcotics proceeds.
In addition to pleading guilty to the conspiracy to launder money charge, Romano also admitted his participation in planning a robbery of The Pawn Shop in Union, New Jersey on April 19, 2014. Romano acknowledged knowing that his conspirators in that case had access to a firearm when they committed the robbery.
In addition to the prison term, Judge Bumb sentenced Eckerd and Romano each to three years of supervised release.
U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Gregory W. Ehrie in Newark, and detectives from the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Acting Prosecutor Lyndsay V. Ruotolo, with the investigation leading to the sentencings.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary E. Toscano, Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas S. Kearney of the U.S Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Newark.