Albuquerque Man Pleads Guilty to Laundering Money for Major Narcotics Trafficking Organization
ALBUQUERQUE – Jerome Eckstein, 39, of Albuquerque, N.M., pled guilty today to a money laundering charge under a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that provides for up to 20 months in federal prison.
Eckstein was one of 19 defendants charged in Dec. 2012, with drug trafficking and money laundering charges in a 60-count indictment. The indictment was superseded twice; first in Feb. 2014, to add a 20th defendant and a witness tampering charge, and again in Sept. 2014, to add another witness tampering charge and a heroin trafficking charge.
The charges filed in the case were the result of a 16-month multi-agency investigation into a drug trafficking organization headed by Christopher Roybal, 35, of Albuquerque, N.M., which was led by the FBI, IRS and Albuquerque Police Department with assistance from the DEA, the HIDTA Region I Narcotic Task Force and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office. The investigation, code-named “Operation Rain Check,” was designated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (“OCDETF”) program. OCDETF is a nationwide Department of Justice program that combines the resources and unique expertise of federal agencies, along with their local counterparts, in a coordinated effort to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations.
According to the original indictment, Roybal and ten others conspired to distribute large quantities of cocaine in New Mexico between Aug. 2011 and Dec. 2012. It further alleged that Roybal and nine others conspired to distribute marijuana between Oct. 2011 and Dec. 2012. The indictment also included three separate money laundering conspiracies, 22 money laundering offenses, and 18 “telephone counts,” offenses alleging the use of a communications device to facilitate a drug trafficking offense. The indictment was superseded in May 2014, to add a new charge against defendant George Roybal, 53, of Albuquerque, alleging that he threatened an FBI informant to prevent the informant from testifying at the trial of this case which was then scheduled to begin on May 19, 2014. It was superseded again in Sept. 2014, to add two new charges against defendant Kenneth Ulibarri, 36, of Albuquerque. The new charges alleged that Ulibarri attempted to murder an FBI informant to prevent that informant from testifying at the trial of this case which was then scheduled to begin on Nov. 10, 2014, and also charged Ulibarri with distributing heroin in Bernalillo County, N.M., in May 2014.
During today’s proceedings, Eckstein pled guilty to a money laundering charge in the second superseding indictment. In entering his guilty plea, Eckstein admitted that between Nov. 2011 and Dec. 2012, he received a large sum of cash from an undercover agent as part of a sting operation. Eckstein further admitted that he should have known that undercover agent was holding himself out to be a drug dealer and that the cash he provided to Eckstein were drug proceeds. Eckstein admitted paying money back to the undercover agent with checks made payable to fictitious companies for work that was never performed.
Two of the defendants charged in this case have entered not guilty pleas and are pending trial. Charges in indictments are merely accusations and criminal defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case was investigated by the FBI, IRS Criminal Investigation and the Albuquerque Police Department, with assistance from the DEA, the HIDTA Region I Narcotics Task Force and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joel R. Meyers and Shana B. Long. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kotz is responsible for litigating the related civil asset forfeiture actions.