US, Colombia Dismantle Money Laundering Scheme

Published: 18 March 2013


Federal authorities charged 19 people with conspiring to launder tens of millions of dollars of drug money, according to a US Department of Justice (DOJ) statement on March 14. Sixteen individuals were arrested in the US and Colombia in a joint operation between US authorities and the Colombian national police; three other defendants were already in custody for previous offenses. All will be tried in New York.

The indictment against the 19 defendants alleges a complex money laundering scheme meant to transfer profits from drug sales from the US to Colombia. The charges allege that “money movers” would receive drug profits from distributors in the US and would transport the funds, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars,  “hidden within compartments in vehicles, gasoline containers, duffel bags and shoeboxes,” to a member of the drug cartel in the US. The money was then smuggled into Colombia, and given to “money brokers” operating fronts for the cartels out of shopping malls in Cali, Colombia. The money would pass through these businesses and exit them as legitimate currency, the DOJ alleged. The four individuals apprehended in the US (and the three already in custody there) were allegedly money movers; the twelve individuals arrested in Colombia were allegedly money brokers, according to the DOJ statement.

The DOJ investigation began in 2009, and revealed that the money laundering operation had been running since at least 2006. The investigation reflects US resolve to combat money laundering both in the US and abroad, US Attorney Loretta E. Lynch said, adding that the transnational arrests should remind traffickers that “distance does not insulate them” from the reach and resolve of US investigators. Lynch specifically thanked the Investigative Directorate of the Colombian National Police, as well as the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations directorate, both of which played key roles in the investigation. Lynch said US agencies would “remain relentless” in pursuing drug traffickers and their illicit proceeds.

If convicted, the accused face a maximum sentence of 20 years.