Leader of Guatemalan Drug Trafficking Organization that Smuggled Multi-Ton Quantities of Drugs Sentenced to 17.5 Years
Assistant U. S. Attorneys Blanca Quintero and Daniel Silva (619) 546-7118
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – October 25, 2019
SAN DIEGO – Manuel Reynoso Garcia was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge William Q. Hayes to 78 months in prison for his role as a leader in an international money laundering organization that laundered more than $19 million in narcotics proceeds from the United States to Mexico.
The multi-year investigation led by the FBI’s Cross Border Violence Task Force targeted Reynoso as one of the key leaders of the Tijuana- and San Diego-based money laundering organization. Reynoso was the last of eight former members of the criminal organization sentenced.
Earlier this year, Judge Hayes sentenced Reynoso’s co-defendants to prison, including Estefania Plascencia Ponce to 57 months; Carlos Ballesteros Robles to 43 months; Gilberto Beltran Salazar to 46 months; Perla Alejandra Perez Guirado to 30 months; Joaquin Enrique Ramirez Calva to 37 months; Humberto Ruiz Bernadac to 24 months; and Luis Fernando Figueroa to time served. One final defendant, Manuel Alejandro Garcia remains a fugitive in Mexico.
According to the plea agreement and other public records, the money laundering organization was composed of a network of co-conspirators who coordinated the pick up, deposit, laundering, and transfer of millions of dollars of narcotics proceeds to Mexico-based drug trafficking organizations to include the Sinaloa Cartel. The organization used sophisticated methods to avoid law enforcement detection, such as encrypted messaging applications, and employed shell corporations complete with fictitious websites in an attempt to disguise their criminal activity as legitimate business.
The organization recruited individuals to serve as “funnel account holders” and transported them to bank branches in San Diego to open personal bank accounts. These funnel bank accounts were typically opened by the funnel account holders at Wells Fargo Bank or other domestic U.S. banks. The funnel account holders were primarily young adults between the ages of 18 and 23 who attended a university in Tijuana, Mexico.
Other members of the money laundering organization, known as “couriers”, travelled to San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, New York City and other cities throughout the United States to pick up and transport large amounts of bulk cash that ranged between $150,000 to $600,000 in narcotics proceeds. Couriers often met associates in private residences or public places such as parking lots, retail stores, and hotel rooms. The cash was typically concealed in shopping bags, duffel bags or shoeboxes.
Once in possession of the bulk cash, the couriers deposited the cash in increments of $30,000 to $45,000 into the funnel bank accounts controlled by the money laundering organization. The funds were then wire transferred from these United States-based funnel bank accounts to a series of Mexico-based shell companies also controlled by the money laundering organization. Once in Mexico, the funds were transferred to representatives of the Sinaloa Cartel.
During the case, federal agents employed extensive surveillance, undercover operations, witness interviews and bank records analysis to collect evidence against the organization. Key operations included the surveillance of members of the organization as they picked up drug proceeds in amounts as large as $200,000 in Cincinnati, Ohio; New York; and San Diego. The FBI also seized a large amount of bulk cash from defendant Joaquin Ramirez Calva in Chula Vista, California, and seized more drug proceeds following the surveillance of a bulk cash delivery to Reynoso in a McDonald’s parking lot in Bonita, California.
“By tracking and seizing drug money, we are hitting the cartels where it hurts,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “Our aim is to prevent drug-related violence and overdoses, and denying the cartels the fruits of their illegal labor is an important part of our legal playbook. Thanks to prosecutors Blanca Quintero and Daniel Silva and our partners at FBI and IRS, we are impacting the operations of the Sinaloa Cartel on the way to our goal.”
“Drug trafficking and money laundering go hand-in-hand,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Scott Brunner. “This case shows that stopping the flow of drug money to the cartels disrupts these dangerous criminal organizations. The FBI will use every investigative tool to keep illegal narcotics and dangerous crime from poisoning our communities.”
“Drug cartels misuse our financial institutions to launder their illicit proceeds, by using shell companies and exploiting young students to conceal their illegal activities. Reynoso was the co-leader of this money laundering organization. His guilty plea and subsequent sentence, in this multi-year investigation, demonstrates IRS Criminal Investigation's determination to identify and bring to justice those that would corrupt our banking system to launder illegal narcotics proceeds,” said Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Korner of IRS Criminal Investigation.
This case is the result of ongoing efforts by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a partnership that brings together the combined expertise of federal, state and local law enforcement. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, dismantle and prosecute high-level members of drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, and money laundering organizations and enterprises. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Blanca Quintero and Daniel Silva.
DEFENDANT Case Number 17-CR-2203-WQH
Manuel Reynoso Garcia Age: 64 Tijuana, Mexico
Estefania Plascencia Pone Age: 36 Tijuana, Mexico
Carlos Ballesteros Robles Age: 28 Tijuana, Mexico
Perla Alejandra Perez Guirado Age: 27 Tijuana, Mexico
Joaquin Enrique Ramirez Calva Age: 30 Tijuana, Mexico
Gilberto Beltran Salazar Age: 31 Tijuana, Mexico
Humberto Ruiz Bernadac Age: 27 Tijuana, Mexico
Luis Fernando Figueroa Age: 30 Tijuana, Mexico
SUMMARY OF CHARGES*
Money Laundering Conspiracy – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1956(h)
Maximum penalty: 20 years’ imprisonment and $500,000 fine
Federal Bureau of Investigation’s San Diego Cross Border Violence Task Force
IRS Criminal Investigations
*The charges and allegations contained in an indictment or complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.