November 01, 2005
Contact: Special Agent Randy Ladd
Phone Number: (720) 895-4040
Money Laundering Scheme Exposed
DEA Utah Financial Investigation Team opens with a home run
NOV 1 - Denver- On October 31, 2005, Jeffrey D. Sweetin, Special Agent in Charge of the Denver Field Division, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and United States Attorney for the District of Utah Paul M. Warner announced that a federal grand jury has indicted 15 individuals in Utah and Colombia charging them with conducting a large scale money laundering scheme to convert U.S. currency made through the sale of narcotics in Columbia to pesos.
DEA Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey D. Sweetin stated that, “DEA remains focused on ‘following the money’ in order to disrupt and curtail drug trafficking organizations’ ability to produce, transport, and sell drugs on American streets. This investigation highlights the efforts of the DEA Utah Financial Investigation Team (UFIT). UFIT was established in January of this year and includes investigators from DEA, Internal Revenue Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, West Valley Police Department and the Salt Lake City Police Department. UFIT, along with the Utah U.S. Attorney’s Office and Zions Bank have much to be proud of today. By combing the talent and experience of law enforcement, prosecutors, and community leaders we can achieve successes like the one we see today.”
Nine of the defendants were arrested in Utah on Thursday, October 27, 2005. They are Jaime Arturo Solarte, age 33 of West Jordan; Haydee Lizette Solarte, age 25, of West Jordan; Juan Gilberto Lopez, age 52, of West Valley City; Marlene Dominguez, age 22, of West Valley City: Antonio Rincon-Uban, age 30 of Murray; Jennifer Cristina Arismendi-Ordaz aka Jennifer Brown, no age available, of Murray; German Mauricio Solarte, age 24 of West Jordan; Maria Helena Christensen, age 51, of Sandy; and Ana Cecilia Toscano, age 34, of Salt Lake City. Jaime Arturo Solarte and German Mauricio Solarte are Columbian nationals living in Utah.
Andres Becerra no age available, of Provo was not arrested and is believed to be in Columbia. The other five individuals indicted are Colombian and are believed to be in Colombia.
Money laundering is used by individuals to help conceal and disguise the nature, location, source, ownership and control of the proceeds of specified unlawful activity.
“At the heart of this case is an alleged effort by the defendants to launder more than $1.45 million in Black Market Peso Exchange money. The indictment alleges they took U.S. currency made from the sale of narcotics in Colombia and laundered it through 16 bank accounts at three bank in Utah and Florida. Once the drug money gets into U.S. banks, the peso broker can replenish his peso funds using an ATM in Colombia,” U.S. Attorney Paul M. Warner said today. “There are also allegations in the indictment that some defendants in the case laundered money for an undercover agent who, according to the indictment, told them the money came from the manufacturing and distribution of marijuana.”
Warner said the drug money came into the United States in the form of currency, money orders and international wires to the alleged conspirators based in Utah. The Utah conspirators deposited the money into bank accounts, structuring the size of the deposits to avoid triggering bank reporting requirements. Once the money was deposited into bank accounts, the Colombian-based conspirators would withdraw money using ATM cards.
For example, Count 3 of the indictment charges several of the defendants with attempting to evade bank reporting requirements by intentionally structuring or breaking currency in excess of $10,000 into amounts less than $10,000. Using at least 12 bank accounts at Zions First National Bank, the defendants made multiple single cash deposits in amounts less than $10,000, which in a single day totaled more than $10,000 in deposits. The defendants also allegedly purchased multiple money orders with cash in amounts less than $10,000 and which, in single day, totaled more than $10,000 in money orders.
Warner said Zions has been “extremely cooperative” in the investigation and, in fact, brought the alleged money laundering conduct to law enforcement’s attention.
“Money laundering is a very complex crime involving an enormous amount of financial transactions and financial outlets throughout the world. We are committed to fighting the war on drugs along with other federal, state and local agencies,” J. Wesley Eddy, Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation for Utah and Nevada, said.
The indictment also charges two individuals, Juan Gilberto Lopez, who is a pastor in Salt Lake City, and Ana Cecilia Toscano, who was an employee at a bank in Salt Lake City, with helping to launder the drug money. Lopez is charged in counts with laundering money provided to him by an undercover officer. The money, which the indictment alleges Lopez put into an undercover bank account, was represented to Lopez as proceeds from the unlawful manufacturing and distribution of marijuana.
The charges are only allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty. For more information please contact DEA Denver Field Division Public Information Officer Special Agent Karen Flowers at (303) 705-7351 or Melodie Rydalch, U.S. Attorney’s Office, at (801) 325-3206.