Albuquerque Man Sentenced to Prison for Laundering Money for Major Narcotics Trafficking Organization
ALBUQUERQUE – Jerome Eckstein, 39, of Albuquerque, N.M., was sentenced today in federal court to 15 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for his money laundering conviction. Eckstein also was fined $46,100.55, reflecting the cost associated with his incarceration and term of supervised release.
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 The indictment was superseded twice; first in Feb. 2014, to add a 20th defendant and a witness tampering charge, and again in Sept. 2014, to add another witness tampering charge and a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, also of Albuquerque, 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.
The original indictment charged Christopher Roybal and ten others, with conspiracy to distribute large quantities of cocaine in New Mexico between Aug. 2011 and Dec. 2012. It also charged Christopher Roybal and nine others with conspiracy to distribute marijuana between Oct. 2011 and Dec. 2012. Additionally, the indictment 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 The indictment was superseded in May 2014, to add a new charge against George Roybal, 53, of Albuquerque, alleging that he threatened an FBI informant to prevent the informant from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 It was superseded again in Sept. 2014, to add two new charges alleging another defendant attempted to murder an FBI informant to prevent that informant from testifying at the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 with distributing heroin in Bernalillo County, N.M., in May 2014.
On March 5, 2015, 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 the 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.
With the exception of one defendant who is participating in a pretrial diversion program under the supervision of the U.S. Probation Office, all 18 defendants have entered guilty pleas.
This case was investigated by the Albuquerque office of 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. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joel R. Meyers and Shana B. Long are prosecuting the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kotz is responsible for litigating the related civil asset forfeiture actions.
The HIDTA Region I Narcotics Task Force is comprised of the Albuquerque Police Department, Albuquerque office of the DEA, Pojoaque Tribal Police Department, Rio Rancho Police Department, Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office and the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office. The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program was created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. HIDTA is a program of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) which provides assistance to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States and seeks to reduce drug trafficking and production by facilitating coordinated law enforcement activities and information sharing.