Member of Drug Trafficking Organization that Distributed High Grade Marijuana Throughout New Mexico Pleads Guilty to Marijuana Trafficking and Money Laundering Charges
Plea Agreement Recommends Sentence of 42 Months of Imprisonment
ALBUQUERQUE – Joaquin Alaniz, 41, of Carlsbad, N.M., pled guilty in federal court in Albuquerque, N.M., to marijuana trafficking and money laundering charges. Alaniz’s plea agreement recommends a prison sentence of 42 months followed by a period of supervised release to be determined by the court.
Alaniz is one of ten defendants charged as the result of a two-year investigation by the FBI and IRS-Criminal Investigation into a drug trafficking organization led by Enrique Cavazos, 32, of Tijeras, N.M., that distributed high-grade marijuana throughout New Mexico and across the country. The investigation revealed that the Cavazos drug trafficking organization cultivated and purchased high-grade marijuana in California, distributed the marijuana throughout the country, and laundered its drug proceeds through a number of businesses and bank accounts in New Mexico.
Alaniz, Enrique Cavazos, his wife Lindsey Cavazos, 33, his father Felix Cavazos, 59, of Albuquerque, Daniel Nieto, 40, of Carlsbad, Eliberto Nava, 36, of Madera, Calif., Antonio Ruelas, 32, of Rio Rancho, N.M., and Robert D. Moreno, 38, of Ukiah, Calif., were charged by indictment in Nov. 2015, with marijuana trafficking and money laundering offenses. The indictment charged the co-conspirators with participating in a marijuana trafficking conspiracy that existed from at least Jan. 2008 through Nov. 2015, and operated in the District of New Mexico and elsewhere.
According to court filings, Enrique Cavazos operated a marijuana trafficking business by directing his co-conspirators to purchase large quantities of marijuana in California and distribute the marijuana in New Mexico and other destinations across the country. Lindsey Cavazos was responsible for keeping the books on businesses she and her husband established with proceeds from their marijuana trafficking activities and for the purpose of laundering their drug proceeds. The couple engaged in a money laundering conspiracy and used bank accounts in the names of several of their businesses, including a restaurant and a car dealership, to launder their drug proceeds.
The indictment was superseded in Aug. 2016, to add money laundering charges against three new defendants: Steven Becerra, 62, the owner of the Becerra Group Tax and Accounting Firm in Albuquerque, who previously was employed by the IRS for 18 years; Deborah Gutierrez, 55, who operated Automated Financial Technologies, which is no longer in business; and Glen F. Lucero, 66, a retired school teacher. The superseding indictment also removed Felix Cavazos, Enrique Cavazos’s father who passed away after the original indictment was filed, from the list of defendants.
During today’s proceedings, Alaniz pled guilty to a felony information charging him with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and conspiracy to commit money laundering. In entering the guilty plea, Alaniz admitted that from at least Jan. 1, 2008 through Nov. 17, 2015, he participated in a conspiracy to cultivate, ship and sell marijuana to wholesalers and users by purchasing marijuana from Enrique Cavazos and distributing the marijuana in New Mexico for approximately a decade. Alaniz further admitted that from at least April 10, 2013 through Nov. 17, 2015, he conspired with his codefendants to launder cash proceeds from the marijuana distribution conspiracy by transferring at least $50,850 of funds derived from the illegal sale of marijuana from his bank accounts to accounts controlled by Enrique and Lindsey Cavazos. A sentencing hearing has yet to be scheduled.
Six of Alaniz’s co-defendants have entered guilty pleas, and four have been sentenced. Nieto pled guilty on May 25, 2017, and was sentenced on June 26, 2018 to 36 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. Lindsey A. Cavazos pled guilty on May 24, 2017, and was sentenced on June 27, 2018 to five years of probation. Enrique Cavazos pled guilty on May 24, 2017, and was sentenced on May 9, 2018, to 72 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release. Ruelas pled guilty on Sept. 8, 2017, and was sentenced on May 2, 2018, to 30 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release. Navia pled guilty on May 22, 2018, and Moreno pled guilty on June 12, 2018. Sentencing hearings for Navia and Moreno are currently scheduled for Sept. 13, 2018.
The remaining three defendants, who have entered not guilty pleas to the superseding indictment, are pending trial, which is currently scheduled for July 2018. Charges in indictments are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The investigation of this case was designated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program, a 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. It was conducted by the Albuquerque offices of the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation and the Albuquerque Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jennifer M. Rozzoni, Timothy S. Vasquez and Joel R. Meyers are prosecuting the case, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kotz is handling the forfeiture matters.