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Nine Sentenced for Funnel Account Conspiracy Relating to Conspiracy to Traffic Marijuana

JUN 18 (CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas) - Six men and three women have now been ordered to federal prison following the sentencing of two more today in a lengthy case which was the result of the efforts of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation dubbed “Operation Prototype,” announced Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Arabit, Houston Division, and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson.

Those sentenced for crimes relating to this drug trafficking and money laundering conspiracy include Francisco R. Canchola, 39, Antonio Medina-Soto, 24, Efren Amescua, 39, Brenda Amescua, 19, Luz Medina, 36, Carlos Flores, 26, and Maria D. Amescua, 43, all of Mission; Prudencio Villalobos, 45, of Jackson, Ga., and Saul Villanueva-Garcia, 44, of Doraville, Ga.

Today, Canchola received a sentence of 168 months in federal prison, while Villanueva-Garcia was ordered to serve 262 months for their convictions of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 1000 kilograms of marijuana as well as conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. Both will also serve five years of supervised release.

Medina-Soto was also convicted of those same counts and was previously sentenced to 48 months in prison. The remaining defendants were convicted of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. Efren Amescua, Medina, Flores, Maria Amescua, and Villalobos were ordered to serve 37, 18, 24, 24, and 36 months, respectively, while Brenda Amescua will serve 12 months and one day.

During the sentencing hearings, evidence was presented regarding the extent of this criminal organization. There was a marijuana and money laundering conspiracy operating between California, Chicago, Ill., Rio Grande Valley as well as Atlanta, Ga. Law enforcement agents identified at least six drug seizures in the United States for which this drug-trafficking organization is responsible. The organization employed the use of sophisticated hidden compartments to transport narcotics into the country. Further, this organization would create multiple fictitious identifications that members used to rent warehouses and residences to store the narcotics until they could be further transported north. 

The investigation has revealed at least nine funnel bank accounts that were used by members of the drug trafficking organization to further their activities inside the country. A combined analysis of these accounts has revealed that they were used in a coordinated manner to funnel illicit bulk currency from throughout the country to South Texas. Specifically, between January 2010 and April 2014 more than $1.1 million in cash deposits were made to these bank accounts at locations in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Georgia, Pennsylvania and New York. These interstate U.S. currency deposits were followed by over-the-counter withdrawals and ATM withdrawals at multiple locations in Mission and McAllen.

The investigation leading to the criminal charges was conducted in Corpus Christi lead by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Mission Police Department, U.S. Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Marshals Service. Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie K. Hampton is prosecuting the case.
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