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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of New Mexico

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Albuquerque Man Sentenced to Sixty-Three Months in Prison for Federal Wire Fraud and Money Laundering Conviction

ALBUQUERQUE – Rodney Chavez, 47, of Albuquerque, N.M., was sentenced yesterday afternoon to 63 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release for his wire fraud and money laundering conviction.  Chavez also was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $847,370.52 to the victims of his criminal conduct.  He also was ordered to forfeit $233,548.40 in funds that were seized from three bank accounts during the investigation of the case.  The sentence was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney Steven C. Yarbrough and Dawn Mertz, Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Office of IRS Criminal Investigation.

Chavez and his co-defendants, Wayne Brian Church, Jr., 28, and Joshua G. Ellis, 43, both of Albuquerque, were charged in Jan. 2012, with wire fraud and money laundering charges in a 22-count indictment that generally alleged that the three men defrauded investors of more than $800,000 in a real estate venture.  Chavez and Church were arrested based on the charges in the indictment in Feb. 2012.  Ellis has yet to be arrested and is considered a fugitive. 

After Church pleaded guilty in Aug. 2012 to a felony information charging him with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, Chavez and Ellis were charged in a 21-count superseding indictment filed in Oct. 2012.  The superseding indictment charged Chavez and Ellis with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and five substantive wire fraud offenses.  It also charged Chavez with conspiracy to launder the proceeds generated by their fraudulent activities and 14 substantive money laundering offenses, and sought forfeiture of the proceeds of the defendants’ unlawful activities. 

On Sept. 9, 2013, Chavez pled guilty to Counts 6 and 7 of the superseding indictment, charging him with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, respectively.  In his plea agreement, Chavez admitted that, between March 2010 and April 2011, he designed and executed a scheme to defraud a group of investors of their interest in certain properties located in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.  Chavez embarked on the scheme after learning that the investors were interested in selling the properties at a substantial loss after realizing that they would not be able to recoup the full amount of their original investments.  In March 2010, Chavez contacted a representative of the investor group under an assumed identity and entered into an agreement to sell the properties on behalf of the investors with the understanding that the investors would receive a return of 30% of their original investments.  Despite his stated intention to sell the properties and distribute the agreed amount to the investors, Chavez admitted that he never intended to honor that agreement and instead intended to defraud the investors by selling the properties and retaining the proceeds for himself.

According to the plea agreement, while falsely assuring investors of his efforts to sell the properties on their behalf, Chavez hired a real estate agent to sell the properties and sold five properties, the sales of which generated approximately $847,370.52 in proceeds.  After the proceeds were wire-transferred to a bank in Albuquerque with assistance from Church, Chavez did not distribute the proceeds to the investors.  Instead, Chavez and Church kept the proceeds and conspired to conceal the source of the proceeds by transferring the money to bank accounts held in the names of businesses they exclusively controlled.  None of the proceeds from the sale of properties were returned to the investors.

Church remains on conditions of release pending his sentencing hearing when he faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.  The charges in the superseding indictment against Ellis are merely accusations and he is presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The case was investigated by the IRS Criminal Investigation and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean J. Sullivan.

Updated January 26, 2015