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Press Release

Leader of Sophisticated Sinaloa Cartel Money Laundering Organization Sentenced to 120 Months

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California


SAN DIEGO – Luis Reinaldo Ramirez of Mesa, Arizona, was sentenced in federal court today to 120 months in prison for his role as a leader in a transnational criminal organization that laundered $16.5 million dollars in narcotics proceeds for the Sinaloa Cartel.  Ramirez was also sentenced for his role in an extortion plot.

Ramirez was one of 12 people indicted on charges ranging from money laundering, narcotics trafficking, and extortion as part of a two-year investigation by FBI and DEA. The investigation resulted in the takedown of the organization that laundered millions of dollars for the Sinaloa Cartel, and the rescue of two victims of an extortion plot in February of 2021. To date the investigation has resulted in the seizure of more than $1.3 million in illicit assets. 

According to his plea agreement, Ramirez played a key role in the day-to-day operations of the organization. He created a network of incorporated shell companies in Wyoming that were used to launder illicit bulk cash. Ramirez directed and facilitated employees of the money laundering organization to travel to cities throughout the United States to pick up bulk cash belonging to narcotics traffickers. The employees picked up the bulk cash in Chicago, Omaha, Boston, New York City, Baltimore, Charlotte, and Philadelphia.

Narcotics traffickers delivered bulk cash in amounts of up to $200,000 to the employees in hotel rooms and parking lots. Following the delivery of the illegal monies, the criminal organization laundered the funds through the shell companies and transferred the monies to bank accounts in Mexico. To demonstrate the drug money connection, in November 2020 the FBI conducted surveillance on a bulk cash delivery from Idsel Valenzuela and Sugey Caro Salazar in Chicago.  The operation led to a subsequent search of Caro and Valenzuela’s home and vehicle, which led to the discovery and seizure of 368 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, 10 kilograms of heroin, and $97,390 in bulk cash.   

Earlier this year, several of Ramirez’s co-defendants were sentenced to prison, including Cristian Amaya Nava, 60 months; Christian Cruz Polanco, 30 months; Sugey Caro Salazar, 48 months; and Idsel Valenzuela, Cheliann Rivera Vazquez and Kimberly Reyes to probationary sentences. Additional co-defendants — Hector Vizcaino Moreno, Ricardo Torres, and Luis Armando Avila — are scheduled to be sentenced in the coming months. Three of Ramirez’s indicted co-defendants remain fugitives in Mexico, including the alleged former Mexico-based leader of the organization, Enrique Esparragoza Rosas of Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico.  

The FBI’s investigation, in partnership with the United States Attorney’s Office, pursued an aggressive strategy of asset seizures in order to disrupt the money laundering organization’s activities.  In total, dozens of bank accounts used by the organization were targeted, resulting in the seizure of more than $1 million from U.S.-based bank accounts. Agents also conducted operations that resulted in the seizure of $197,430 in bulk cash and a Volvo tractor-trailer that was purchased with drug money. Agents also seized illicit funds that were used to purchase aircraft and aircraft engines for export to Mexico in several instances.

The FBI’s efforts also resulted in a successful rescue of two victims who were being extorted by the money laundering organization in February 2021. Prior to the extortion, one of the victims, an employee of the money laundering organization, began stealing illicit funds from a bank account he controlled for the organization. In February 2021, when Esparragoza and Ramirez learned of the theft, they conspired to threaten and extort the pair to repay the funds. Esparragoza sent Cristian Amaya-Nava to threaten the men and their families. Amaya-Nava then drove the two men around Imperial and San Diego counties to collect money from accounts they controlled. Esparragoza also directly threatened the men and their families during several phone conversations that day, telling them that two truckloads of men from Tijuana would “take care of them” if they did anything stupid. 

Once the FBI learned of the ongoing extortion, they began tracking the victim’s and Amaya Nava’s movements. FBI agents coordinated with the National City Police Department to conduct a traffic stop wherein Amaya Nava was arrested and the two victims were rescued.

“In cases like this we strike at the life blood of the drug trafficker,” said U.S. Attorney Tara McGrath.  “Money launderers provide the means for cartels to produce and import their deadly poison into the United States.”

“The sentencing of Mr. Ramirez is a major step toward dismantling the Sinaloa Cartel,” said FBI San Diego Special Agent in Charge, Stacey Moy. “We remain committed to working collaboratively with our law enforcement partners to disrupt and dismantle organized crime activity not only in San Diego, but wherever our investigations may lead.”

“There is no place for drug trafficking in San Diego,” said DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge Anthony Chrysanthis. “Drug trafficking is a violent crime that harms our citizens and weakens our communities. The DEA and our partners will continue to be vigilant in dismantling these operations.”

This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Mellor.

DEFENDANTS                                             Case Number 22cr2185-BAS                           

Luis Reinaldo Ramirez                                   Age: 41                                   Mesa, Arizona


Money Laundering Conspiracy – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1956(h)

Maximum penalty: Twenty years in prison and $500,000 fine

Hobbs Act Extortion - Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1951(a)

Maximum penalty: Twenty years in prison and $250,000 fine


Federal Bureau of Investigation

Drug Enforcement Administration

Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces

*The charges and allegations contained in an indictment or complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Updated May 20, 2024

Drug Trafficking
Press Release Number: CAS24-0520-Ramirez