Twenty-two people suspected of laundering millions of dollars in Colombian cocaine profits are being charged by Miami prosecutors.
The money laundering ring involved about $1 million a month in drug money from throughout North America.
‘It’s very sophisticated,’ John Tobon, Deputy Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations.
The money launderers, Tobon said, used a system involving illicit money, illegal foreign exchange transactions, and customs fraud to transfer drug dollars from the United States to Colombia.
Essentially, the scheme works like this:
Mexican cartels buy drugs on credit from Colombian cartels, and sell the narcotics in the United States for dollars.
In order for those dollars to end up back in Colombia, where they can be used to pay the original seller of the drugs back, the Mexican cartels working in the United States use money brokers.
A money broker will work out a deal with a legitimate business in Colombia – for example, a phone importer who wants to buy U.S. dollars for Colombian pesos, and then use the dollars to pay for merchandise in the United States.
The pesos that the phone importer pays the broker are used by the broker to pay back the Colombian cartel and the dollars the phone importer receives, and uses to import merchandise, are the dollars the Mexican cartel earned from selling drugs in the United States.
The suspects used nicknames that included ‘Tony Montana,’ ‘Pitbull,’ and ‘Neymar,’ the Miami Herald reported Thursday.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said the case is a joint investigation with federal Homeland Security Department officials.
‘It’s highly advanced. It is very complicated, very broad and the layering – one transaction after another transaction – all designed to hide what they are doing,’ Rundle told the Herald.
To expose the scheme, investigators used wiretaps, surveillance, informants, and the information contained in thousands of financial transactions, the Herald reported.
No business owners were charged but Rundle says they should be on notice when handling suspicious transactions.
A top suspect although he has not yet been charged was Joaguin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s main money launderer, Juan Manuel Alvarez Inzunza, 34, who was arrested in Mexico last month.
Those charged in ‘Operation Neymar,’ as the investigation was dubbed, included two brokers for the Colombian Cali Cartel: Ivan Alfredo Castro Santana and Ivan Andres Lizarazo Mendoza.
They were charged with racketeering and money laundering. Lizarazo’s sister, Miami resident Sidia Milady Lizarazo Mendoza, is also being charged with the latter offense.
Authorities also seized about $1 million in cash during the investigation.