Six Colombian Nationals and Owner of Consumer Electronic Business Charged for Their Roles in Money Laundering and Unlicensed Money Transmission Business Offenses
DALLAS – DEA Dallas Division Special Agent in Charge Eduardo A. Chavez and United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey S. Berman announced today the unsealing of four indictments charging Miguel Cespedes, Omar Mogollon, Luis Felipe Gonzalez Arcila, Ivan Rojas Acosta, Alex Barrera Forero and David Ortiz Villamizar, six Colombian nationals, as well as Amit Agarwal, an Indian national who operates a wholesale consumer electronics business in East Hanover, N.J., for offenses relating to various international money laundering schemes and the operation of unlicensed money transmission businesses.
Cespedes, Mogollon, Gonzalez, Rojas, Barrera and Ortiz were arrested in Colombia, and the United States Government will be seeking their extradition to the United States. Agarwal was arrested on Dec. 20, 2019, at Newark International Airport. Agarwal’s case is assigned to United States District Judge Paul A. Engelmeyer; Cespedes’s case is assigned to United States District Judge Gregory H. Woods; Barrera and Ortiz’s case is assigned to United States District Judge Gregory H. Woods; and Mogollon, Gonzalez, and Rojas’s case is assigned to United States District Judge J. Paul Oetken.
“Today’s arrests serve as notice to those who participate in any aspect of the global drug trade – whether it be selling drugs on a street corner or moving illicit profits through our banking system – the DEA along with our global partners, will hold those responsible and bring them to justice,” said Special Agent in Charge Chavez.
“The illegal drug trade depends on shadow financial networks to move drug traffickers’ profits into our banking system and across our borders,” said U.S. Attorney Berman. “As alleged, these defendants ran those types of networks in both the United States and Colombia. Today’s arrests demonstrate that this Office, along with our partners here and abroad, will bring the operators of such networks to justice wherever in the world they may hide.”
As alleged in the Indictments unsealed in Manhattan federal court:
From at least in or about June 2018 through at least in or about 2019, Miguel Cespedes, Omar Mogollon, Luis Felipe Gonzalez Arcila, Ivan Rojas Acosta, Alex Barrera Forero, David Ortiz Villamizar, and Amit Agarwal all participated in schemes to launder funds from locations throughout the United States to recipients in, among other places, Colombia. Among other things, the purpose of the schemes was to enable clients with cash located in the United States to transfer the value of that cash to other countries, principally Colombia, without the need for physically transporting United States currency across an international border or directly depositing large amounts of cash into the legitimate financial system.
To effectuate the scheme, “clients,” i.e., the owners of funds located in the United States, utilized the services of money brokers operating primarily in Colombia (the “money brokers”). The money brokers offered “contracts” typically requiring (a) the pick-up of United States currency from couriers throughout the United States and the receipt of international wires in the United States, and (b) the delivery of a corresponding amount of pesos in Colombia to the money brokers. In exchange for successfully delivering on a contract, the money brokers earned a commission, taken from the pesos received by them in Colombia. The person(s) with whom the money brokers contracted to arrange for the pick-up and receipt of United States currency also received a commission taken from the pesos received by the money brokers in Colombia. Although the payment of commissions from the funds collected pursuant to a contract meant that the clients did not receive the full value of the funds that the clients owned in the United States, this scheme enabled the clients to avoid the risks of having large quantities of cash detected at international borders and to avoid triggering financial reporting requirements.
Cespedes, Mogollon, Gonzalez, Rojas, Barrera, and Ortiz engaged in the scheme as money brokers. As money brokers, working at times independently and at times together, they offered and executed upon multiple contracts requiring the pick-up of funds throughout the United States, and the delivery of a corresponding value of pesos to them in Colombia. In exchange for their work as money brokers, they received commissions taken from the pesos delivered to them in Colombia, as did the individuals with whom they contracted.
Agarwal was the chief executive officer of a consumer electronics products business based in East Hanover, N.J. (the “Agarwal electronics business”). Among other things, the Agarwal electronics business exported consumer electronics to purchasers throughout the world, including purchasers located in Colombia. In connection with its business activities, the Agarwal electronics business maintained a bank account in the United States, controlled and operated by Agarwal (the “Agarwal bank account”).
Typically, as part of the scheme, the funds collected in the United States pursuant to contracts offered by Cespedes, Mogollon, Gonzalez, Rojas, Barrera, and Ortiz were deposited in a bank account located in the United States (“bank account-1”), and then transferred to the Agarwal bank account. Pursuant to the contracts offered by the Money Brokers, Agarwal agreed to accept these funds into the Agarwal bank account, and Agarwal also agreed to accept funds into the Agarwal bank account that had been wired to bank account-1 from foreign locations, including Mexico. Agarwal understood these funds to be narcotics proceeds and sought to repatriate them to South America while avoiding the risk associated with having large quantities of cash detected at international borders, and avoiding the currency reporting requirements imposed by United States laws.
Upon receiving confirmation that funds collected pursuant to a money broker contract issued by Cespedes, Mogollon, Gonzalez, Rojas, Barrera, or Ortiz were available for deposit into the Agarwal bank account, Agarwal arranged for the export of a roughly equivalent value of consumer electronics products to certain consumer electronic product suppliers located in Colombia (the “Colombian electronics suppliers”). The Colombian electronics suppliers, in turn, arranged to pay for the products by delivering pesos to an individual in Colombia, who then delivered those funds to the money brokers. In this way, funds collected in the United States were remitted to Colombia, without requiring that they be reported, declared, or smuggled over international borders.
During the execution of the scheme, federal law enforcement agents working in an undercover capacity, and persons operating at the direction of federal law enforcement agents, informed Agarwal that the funds he agreed to receive in the Agarwal bank account from bank account-1, pursuant to the scheme, represented the proceeds of narcotics trafficking activity. Agarwal, however, continued to accept the funds into the Agarwal bank account while facilitating the money broker contracts.
Agarwal is charged in United States v. Amit Agarwal, 19 Cr. 838, with one count of money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Cespedes is charged in United States v. Miguel Cespedes, 19 Cr. 839, with one count of operation of an unlicensed money transmission business, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Mogollon, Gonzalez, and Rojas are charged in United States v. Omar Mogollon, et al., 19 Cr. 837, with conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmission business and operation of an unlicensed money transmission business, each of which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Mogollon is also charged with one count of international money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Barrera and Ortiz are charged in United States v. Alex Barrera Forero and David Ortiz Villamizar, 19 Cr. 840, with one count of conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmission business, and one count of operation of an unlicensed money transmission business, each of which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The statutory maximum sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the respective judges.
Mr. Berman praised the investigative work of the DEA’s Dallas Field Division’s Enforcement Group 4 and the DEA’s Bogota Country Office, and thanked the authorities in Colombia, and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs of the Department’s Criminal Division for their assistance.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Tara M. La Morte and Cecilia E. Vogel are in charge of the prosecution.
The allegations in the indictments are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
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