News Release
For Immediate Release
August 09, 2010

Colombian National Involved in Money Laundering
Conspiracy Sentenced to 45 Months in Federal Prison

AUG 09 --Steven W. Derr, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration for New England and David B. Fein, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that JUAN MERLANO SALAZAR, 36, of Medellin, Colombia, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Mark R. Kravitz in New Haven to 45 months of imprisonment for his role in an international money laundering conspiracy.

This matter stems from “Operation Babbling Brook,” a Drug Enforcement Administration-led investigation into suspected money laundering by a Colombian-based organization.  According to court documents and statements made in court, the organization employed operatives in the United States and funneled millions of dollars in drug proceeds from the U.S. to Medellin, Colombia.  The investigation, which utilized a variety of traditional and sophisticated investigative techniques, including court-authorized interception of international e-mail, disclosed that the money laundering organization used direct deposits of cash into third-party bank accounts, as well as payment of third-party debt obligations to move cash drug proceeds from the New York metropolitan area out of the country.  The organization also used “stored value cards,” which function like debit cards and enabled cardholders to deposit U.S. dollars into accounts locally, to be withdrawn later from banks in Medellin as Colombian pesos.

More than $7 million in drug proceeds were laundered through this scheme.

MERLANO has been detained since his arrest in Colombia on August 20, 2008.  On March 30, 2010, MERLANO pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and eleven counts of money laundering.  He will be deported upon completion of his sentence.

On June 11, 2008, a federal grand jury in Bridgeport returned a Superseding Indictment charging MERLANO and others, including Robert E. Hodgins and the Texas-based business where he served as the Chief Executive Officer and President, Virtual Money, Inc., with money laundering conspiracy and related charges.  Hodgins is being sought by law enforcement.

As to Hodgins and Virtual Money, Inc., U.S. Attorney Fein stressed that an indictment is not evidence of guilt.  Charges are only allegations, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.