California money launderer for Mexican drug cartel sentenced to nearly 5 years in prison
Defendant with multiple criminal convictions lived life of luxury while using bitcoin to launder drug proceeds
Tacoma – A repeat offender, who laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug proceeds for a Mexican drug cartel using bitcoin, was sentenced today to 58 months in prison, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman. Gregory David Werber, 58, of Manhattan Beach, California, laundered drug proceeds for a drug trafficking organization that distributed heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine in Western Washington. At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Bryan told him, “There is no way to judge how many people have been hurt by this drug cartel and all of the people who suffered from drug addiction… You were helping violent people do violent things.”
“Drug traffickers are in it for the money–and those who collect the cash and send it over international borders to drug suppliers are key players in feeding the addictions that damage our communities,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Gorman. “This defendant lived the good life on the beach, with first class travel to collect drug money. But it was a lifestyle gained at the expense of those struggling with addiction to heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine.”
During an 18-month investigation in 2017 and 2018, law enforcement identified Werber as the key money launderer for a drug distribution network. In Western Washington, the group distributed heroin, crystal methamphetamine, and fentanyl-laced counterfeit oxycodone pills in Pierce, Kitsap, King, Skagit and Snohomish Counties. Over the course of the investigation, law enforcement seized thousands of counterfeit oxycodone pills tainted with fentanyl, a powerful and potentially deadly opioid. Following one seizure from a vehicle, Washington State Patrol troopers were treated for their accidental exposure.
The investigation began with the Bremerton Police Department’s controlled buys of heroin through Facebook. On August 31, 2018, detectives and DEA agents seized more than 3,000 fentanyl-laced imitation oxycodone pills, nearly a kilogram of heroin, and more than $100,000 in cash from an apartment in South King County. On November 28, 2018, law enforcement seized more than 13 pounds of heroin from the engine compartment of a semi-truck driven by a frequent smuggler for the ring. In addition to coded cell phone conversations, many of the members of the ring also communicated via Facebook messenger. On December 6, 2018, law enforcement seized thousands of fentanyl-laced pills, more than 7.5 kilograms of heroin, and 3 kilograms of cocaine, dozens of firearms, and over $325,000 in cash. Nearly 50 defendants have been prosecuted in connection with the drug trafficking ring.
Werber originally used his own bank account to deposit drug cash and convert it to bitcoin to be transferred to drug conspirators in Mexico. Following one seizure of more than $100,000 by law enforcement in a traffic stop, Werber started using fake names to move the cash via FedEx. When an undercover agent contacted Werber and indicated he wanted to launder illegal proceeds, Werber described how he could handle the laundering of large amounts of cash and help the undercover agent avoid detection by the government.
Werber has prior federal convictions for credit card fraud, transporting stolen goods, smuggling, and passport fraud, and prior state convictions for drug trafficking, fraud, grand theft, and escape. His criminal conduct in this case began within months of his 2017 release from state prison following a nine-year sentence for a drug distribution conviction in Ohio. In fact, Werber has been in custody almost continuously since 1997.
Werber is forfeiting $69,000 in cash to the government. Following prison, he will be on three years of supervised release.
This investigation was conducted by the DEA Tacoma Resident Office and the Bremerton Police Department, with significant assistance from the Tahoma Narcotics Enforcement Team (TNET); DEA Special Operations Division, Chantilly, Virginia; and Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA).
The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Marci Ellsworth and Karyn Johnson.