Texas Businessman Sentenced to 235 Months in Prison for Laundering Millions of Dollars for a Mexican Narcotics Trafficking Organization
NEWARK, N.J. – Brian R. Crowell, the Special Agent in Charge of the New Jersey Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that Vikram Datta, the owner of multiple retail perfume stores located on the United States-Mexico border, was sentenced today in Manhattan federal court to 235 months in prison. In September 2011, he was found guilty after a two-week trial of conspiracy charges stemming from his use of his perfume distribution business to launder millions of dollars for a Mexican narcotics organization. Datta was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Vikram Datta used his perfume business to remove the stench from Mexican drug cartel money, and now he will pay a steep price for his crimes. Today’s sentence should make anyone think twice about getting into business with narcotics traffickers.”
According to the trial evidence and other documents filed in the case:
From June 2009 until January 2011, Datta operated a business that sold significant amounts of perfume to Mexican purchasers. As payment, he accepted millions of dollars in cash that had been generated from drug sales in the United States. After the drugs were sold in the U.S., the proceeds (“narco dollars”) were smuggled to Mexico, where they were aggregated and stored. Mexican money exchange businesses then purchased the narco dollars in exchange for Mexican pesos at a steep discount from the prevailing inter-bank exchange rate. The exchange businesses later transported the narco dollars back into the United States and used them to purchase perfume at businesses, including Datta’s, located in Laredo, Texas, that would then ship the perfume to purchasers in Mexico.
In August 2010, Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) undercover agents were introduced to Datta, and they continued to meet and speak with him on numerous occasions until January 2011. During these meetings, Datta admitted, among other things, that he was receiving “a lot of cash” from his customers on the border and that “it’s all Sinaloa money,” a reference to the Sinaloa Cartel, a major Mexican narcotics trafficking organization. Datta also acknowledged that his business was “just washing the whole money.”
The DEA’s analysis of financial records revealed that, from January 2009 through January 2011, more than $25 million in United States currency was deposited in bank accounts controlled by Datta and his co-conspirators. The DEA also determined that Datta frequently failed to file financial reports concerning cash transactions that are required by the Bank Secrecy Act. These reports must be filed by any person who receives more than $10,000 in a single transaction or a series of related transactions while conducting a trade or business.
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Datta, 51, resided in Laredo, Texas prior to his arrest in this case. The charges against Datta were the culmination of an extensive undercover DEA investigation into the Colombian and Mexican Black Market Peso Exchange (“BMPE”), a means of laundering narcotics proceeds generated in the United States and ultimately returning them to Colombia and Mexico. In connection with the investigation, 29 individuals have been charged, and 21 have been convicted to date.
Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the DEA New Jersey Division, which led the investigation, and the DEA Houston and Laredo field offices. He also thanked Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and the IRS Criminal Investigations Division New Jersey Field Office for their assistance. This case is being handled by the Office’s Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Peter Skinner, Alvin Bragg, Howard Master, Michael Ferrara, and Kan Min Nawaday are in charge of the prosecution.