[dropcap]G[/dropcap]overnment officials in Chicago announced a victory in the war against drugs by pressing federal and state charges on 32 men and women for conspiring to launder money. The group is said to be involved in an operation for the Sinaloa drug cartel, and has laundered more than $100 million in a cash-for-gold scheme.
Allegedly, conspiracy leaders Diego “Botas” Pineda-Sanchez and Carlos “Walt Disney” Parra-Pedrozo directed U.S.-based members of the Sinaloa cartel to purchase scraps of gold to resell to refineries in California and Florida. The companies in turn would transmit the cash value of the gold to Parra-Pedroza and other co-conspirators in Mexico.
Federal attorneys are claiming that Mexico-based money brokers used networks in Chicago, Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles to use this method to launder money earned in narcotics sales. According to court documents, co-conspirators shipped under the fictitious company name “Chicago Gold” to refineries. Payments later went out to a Mexican company called “Shopping Silver S.A. de C.V.”
Zachary T. Fardon, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois said, “The drug trade is driven by money earned at the expense of countless devastated lives and ravaged communities.” He added, “These charges reflect the tireless work of federal, state and local authorities to stop not only those individuals who make that destructive business possible, but profitable.”
An undercover law enforcement operation collected over $4.5 million between June 2013 and August 2014 from drug couriers. Before this month’s arrests, agencies gathered more than $2.8 million, 28 firearms, 92 pounds of cocaine, over two tons of marijuana and large amounts of heroin and methamphetamines.
Currently, the two leaders are in custody on a related money laundering arrest in December 2014, with two other defendants. Twelve more defendants were arrested this month, many of which were in Chicago, while another was arrested on state charges. Government officials believe the reaming 15 fugitives may be in Mexico.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, who released a statement on Feb. 11, the charges came together after a large multi-agency investigation effort with participation from U.S Immigration Customs Enforcements (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), The IRS Criminal Investigation Division and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The agencies worked together with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies under the umbrella of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF).
If convicted, defendants facing federal money laundering charges may be looking at a maximum of 20 years in prison. They may also be charged a fine of $500,000 or twice the gross gain or loss resulting from the charged offense.
“Chicago is a hub for narcotics money laundering, with dirty money changing hands all too often in public parking lots throughout the city and suburbs,” said Special Agent in Charge Gary Hartwig. “Criminals are turning to sophisticated trade-based schemes to launder their money and cover their tracks, but these arrests should serve as a stern warning to those doing business with drug traffickers—you will ultimately pay the price.”
A full list of the 32 defendants, along with court complaints, can be viewed at the U.S Attorney’s Office’s official website at www.justice.gov/usao/iln/pr/chicago/2015/pr0211_02.html.