Skagit County business owner sentenced to prison for laundering money for drug cartel that trafficked heroin and fentanyl
Defendant used money transmitter status to hide and send drug proceeds to Mexico for drug trafficking group tied to cartel
Tacoma – A Skagit County resident who operated businesses in Burlington and Sedro Woolley, Washington was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 18 months in prison for his role in knowingly laundering cash drug proceeds for a drug cartel, announced U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran. ORLANDO BARAJAS, 41, owns and operates ‘Tacos El Antojito’ in Burlington. An extensive wiretap investigation revealed that BARAJAS was laundering the drug proceeds by transmitting the funds to Mexico using the money remittance services offered at his store. At the sentencing hearing Judge Ronald B. Leighton noted that money laundering “is a vital component of the cycle, which incentivizes the predatory practices of the cartel to produce, hide, transport, and ply their particular toxin to a waiting community.”
“Stopping the flow of cash to the cartels in Mexico is a key component in battling the flow of these dangerous drugs into our community,” said U.S. Attorney Moran. “This cartel-connected trafficking organization brought heroin and fentanyl into our communities. We will do all we can to stop the deadly toll of those drugs.”
According to records filed in the case, BARAJAS conspired with the drug traffickers to send tens of thousands of dollars to Mexico in amounts structured to avoid any reporting requirements. BARAJAS created phony names to send the money, and passed along the passwords needed so that conspirators in Mexico could access the cash. In one three-week period he transmitted more than $27,000. BARAJAS transmitted cash for the conspiracy for most of 2018.
In early December 2018, law enforcement moved in on the organization after an 18-month investigation. The coconspirators distributed heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine in Washington State, New York, Arizona, Oregon, California, Tennessee, and Utah. In Western Washington, the group distributed these drugs in Pierce, Kitsap, King, Skagit and Snohomish Counties. Over the course of the investigation law enforcement seized thousands of counterfeit oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl, a powerful and potentially deadly opioid.
Over the past few months leaders of the distribution conspiracy have pleaded guilty and been sentenced to prison terms ranging from four years to ten years in prison.
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), 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, Karyn Johnson, and Angelica Williams.