Drug Enforcement Administration

San Diego

Karen I. Flowers, Special Agent in Charge

October 13, 2017

Contact: Kameron Korte

Phone Number: (858) 616-4100

Chula Vista Airplane Broker Who Managed Money Laundering Crew Using Drug Proceeds Sentenced To 60 Months

Millions in cash drug proceeds deposits made nationwide for purchase of over 35 airplanes for export to Mexico

SAN DIEGO - Chula Vista airplane broker Vicente Contreras-Amezquita of Chula Vista was sentenced today to 60 months in custody after Contreras-Amezuita pled in federal court to money laundering charges. In  his plea he admitted helping hide the true origin of illegal money through the purchase of over 35 airplanes by engaging in convoluted financial transactions during a five-year period.

In the sentencing this morning U.S. District Court Judge Michael M. Anello found that the money was derived from drug proceeds.

"This sentence is a reminder that people who launder money for drug traffickers are committing a serious crime," says DEA San Diego Special Agent-in-Charge William R. Sherman. “Living the high life on drug proceeds will lead to a crash and burn."

On March 1, 2017, Vicente Contreras-Amezquita entered a guilty plea before Judge Anello to conspiracy to launder drug proceeds and conspiracy to engage in monetary transactions. As admitted in federal court, Contreras-Amezquita, the owner and manager of Aeropartes Baja and Vekve Corporation, located in Chula Vista, facilitated the purchase of over 35 airplanes and airplane parts for exportation to Mexico. He did so by laundering and structuring bulk unlawful proceeds into 46 business and personal bank accounts he controlled and managed. 

Over a five year period, Contreras-Amezquita admitted his money laundering crew deposited over $3.6 million in 525 structured cash deposits intended for the purchase of over 35 airplanes for exportation to Mexico. He further admitted that he facilitated the purchase of airplanes for exportation and deregistration to Mexico on behalf of third parties to conceal the origin and source of the bulk cash, which Contreras-Amezquita knew was criminally derived from unlawful proceeds. Contreras-Amezquita also admitted that he knew that any financial institution that engages in a currency transaction involving more than $10,000 in cash must file a report of the transaction to the U.S. Treasury Department, which Contreras-Amezquita wanted to avoid.

To conceal and disguise the nature, location, source, ownership, and control of the criminal proceeds, and to evade the reporting requirements, Contreras-Amezquita admitted he made arrangements to receive bulk cash at various locations, including strip malls, parking lots, aircraft hangars, and fast-food restaurants, for the purchase of planes by third parties, who wanted to disguise the source of the cash.

Immediately after receiving the bulk cash, and to facilitate the charged conspiracies, Contreras-Amezquita admitted he would direct and instruct his crew to arrange for structured cash (under $10,000) into different financial institutions on the same and consecutive days, using multiple bank accounts at multiple branch offices. Contreras-Amezquita’s money laundering crew made structured cash deposits in several locations in California, Arizona, Texas, Michigan, and Georgia.  Contreras-Amezquita agreed that he purposefully and intentionally engaged in convoluted financial transactions to conceal and disguise the nature, location, source, ownership, and control of the illegal cash proceeds.

According to court documents, federal agents seized approximately $104,000 in cash during a traffic stop on November 25, 2011, and approximately $249,820 in cash on December 19, 2011, from Contreras-Amezquita, and forfeited the bulk cash, which was contained in cardboard boxes, as drug proceeds. Federal agents also seized and forfeited an airplane in Florida, which was destined for Mexico, in January 2012.

Contreras-Amezquita facilitated the acquisition and purchase of Cessnas and airplane parts, including auxiliary fuel tanks, heavy duty tires and landing gear for landing on clandestine airfields. Cessna 206s and 210s are the types of airplanes generally preferred by drug-trafficking organizations operating in Mexico because of their reliability, speed and ability to carry heavy payloads over long distances.

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