Five Convicted In Relation To $20+ Million ‘Black Market Peso Exchange’ Scheme
HOUSTON – One of the leaders of an organization that laundered more than $20 million through “shell” business bank accounts has just entered a guilty plea in federal court in Houston, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today along with Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. With the plea of Enrique Morales, 42, of Houston and Guadalajara, Mexico, five people taken into custody in relation to the scheme have now been convicted.
Morales pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business before U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal this morning.
Willie Whitehurst, Fulton Smith and Anthony Foster, all from Houston and money couriers for the organization, also pleaded guilty to the same two charges. Smith, 40, entered a plea yesterday while Whitehurst, 44, and Foster, 47, pleaded guilty last month. An office manager for the organization - Sarah Combs, 48, of Dickinson - previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business.
In August 2012, a federal grand jury in Houston indicted the five defendants for their parts in a large “Black Market Peso Exchange” scheme. From October 2009 to September 2011, the defendants placed U.S. currency gained through the sale of drugs in U.S. cities into bank accounts held in the name of the organization’s “shell” companies. The money was then transferred to different accounts in the U.S. and in Mexico. In exchange, pesos were transferred back to accounts owned by the organization’s clients.
Foster, Whitehurst and Combs are scheduled for sentencing on May 9, 2013, while Smith and Morales are set for May 29, 2013. For the money laundering conspiracy, Morales, Whitehurst, Foster and Smith face up to 20 years in federal prison and a $500,000 fine, or twice the value of the property involved in the offense, whichever is greater. All five face up to five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000 for conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business.
The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Ted Imperato of the Southern District of Texas and Trial Attorney Keith Liddle of the Justice Department’s Money Laundering and Bank Integrity Unit are prosecuting the case.