In El Paso today, 53-year-old Jose Luis Rodriguez, owner of ERENE, Inc. (ERENE) was sentenced to 121 months in federal prison for implementing an estimated $100 million trade-based money laundering scheme announced United States Attorney Richard Durbin, Jr., Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Special Agent in Charge William Cotter, and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent in Charge Waldemar Rodriguez.
In addition to the prison term, United States District Judge David C. Guaderrama ordered that Rodriguez pay a $10,000 fine and be placed on supervised release for a period of three years after completing his prison term. Judge Guaderrama also ordered that Rodriguez forfeit to the Government property located at 600 S. Stanton in El Paso and approximately $650,000 in U.S. Currency seized from his bank accounts. In addition, Rodriguez agreed to forfeit to the Government shoe and other products seized during this investigation valued at over $1 million.
ERENE, formerly doing business as “J&E Sports” among other names, is an El Paso-based business which primarily sells shoes and other goods to U.S. and Mexican-based customers.
On August 27, 2015, the fourth day of his federal jury trial, Rodriguez pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. By pleading guilty, Rodriguez admitted that he and others conspired to launder the proceeds of a scheme to illegally smuggle millions of dollars worth of goods into Mexico without paying the tariffs, duties, and fees imposed by the Mexican government. From March 6, 2006 to November 2014, these goods were ultimately smuggled using “pasadores” or black market smugglers and were done so without following the U.S. laws and regulations applicable to the export of goods from the United States. Evidence presented during trial also revealed that between 2012 and 2014, more than an estimated $2.3 million in bribes were paid to Mexican customs officials to facilitate the scheme.
“Today’s sentence is the culmination of a successful multi-agency investigation into a transnational criminal organization. These individuals moved money and U.S. goods across our border in furtherance of their illegal activities,” said Waldemar Rodriguez, special agent in charge of HSI El Paso. “HSI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners in the United States and Mexico to investigate and expose money laundering regardless of the schemes that are utilized.”
Three co-defendants--40–year-old ERENE Assistant Manager Jorge Penuelas, 53-year-old ERENE employee Manuel Rodriguez and 39-year-old Ricardo Cruz-Olguin—entered guilty pleas to the conspiracy charge prior to jury selection. Their sentences ranged from one year incarceration to three years probation. Two other co-defendants are fugitives. They are 38–year-old Cesar Salazar-Carrillo and 53-year-old Amalia Turcio Ortega. Both are charged with participating in the money laundering conspiracy.
This investigation was conducted by the HSI’s Financial Operations & Currency Unified Strikeforce (FOCUS). FOCUS is comprised of investigators from HSI, IRS – Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Customs and Border Protection – Office of Field Operations (CBP-OFO), the El Paso Police Department and the Texas Attorney General’s Office. The Government of Mexico Servicio de Administracion Tributaria (SAT) also assisted in this investigation. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Joseph Blackwell and John Gibson.