Sophisticated Sinaloa Cartel money laundering organization busted by feds

By Gangsters Inc. Editors

Americans are dying younger and younger. One of the reasons is their addiction to opioids and other narcotics. Though the War on Drugs seems a failure, authorities continue as before. Only this time they focus on the money. The root of all evil.

A two-year investigation by FBI and DEA has resulted in the indictment of twelve people, the takedown of a transnational criminal organization that allegedly laundered at least $16.5 million for the Sinaloa cartel, and the rescue of two victims of an extortion plot.

“Mexican drug cartels cannot succeed without money launderers,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “Our office will prosecute not only those who traffic in drugs but also those who enable the drug traffickers through sophisticated shell corporations and multiple bank accounts.”

Cristian Amaya Nava was the first to be sentenced in federal court Monday to 60 months in prison in connection with the extortion and money laundering charges. He admitted that in February of 2021, he forced two victims to withdraw funds from their own accounts to repay a drug debt, under threat of harm to themselves and their families.  He also admitted that he laundered over $2.4 million for the cartel.

Complex money laundering organization

An investigation was initiated in the fall of 2020 after FBI agents identified a complex money laundering organization allegedly led by Enrique Daan Esparragoza Rosas of Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico. The indictment said Esparragoza’s organization used a network of shell companies incorporated in Wyoming to launder millions of dollars in cash belonging to the Sinaloa Cartel. The shell companies and a sophisticated financial network were created and overseen by Luis Ramirez, a U.S. citizen residing in Mesa, Arizona.

Ramirez and Esparragoza allegedly directed and facilitated employees of the money laundering organization to travel to cities throughout the United States to pick up bulk cash belonging to narcotics traffickers. The employees picked up the bulk cash in Chicago, Omaha, Boston, New York City, Baltimore, Charlotte, Philadelphia and other cities.

Narcotics traffickers delivered bulk cash in amounts of up to $200,000 to the employees in hotel rooms and parking lots. Following the delivery of the illegal money, the criminal organization laundered the funds through the shell companies and then transferred the laundered funds to bank accounts in Mexico.  In total, dozens of bank accounts used by the organization were targeted, resulting in the seizure of $1 million from those accounts plus about $197,430 in bulk cash. 

In November 2020, the FBI worked with the DEA Chicago Field Office to conduct an operation using information from the investigation which resulted in the seizure of 368 pounds of crystal methamphetamine and 10 kilograms of heroin, allegedly from defendants Sugey Caro Salazar and Idsel Valenzuela in LaPorte, Indiana. They are accused of delivering cash to an employee of the money laundering organization.

Funds laundered by the organization were used to purchase a Volvo tractor-trailer that FBI agents seized near Las Vegas; and aircraft and aircraft engines for export to Mexico, among other things.

Extortion plot

In the extortion plot, the FBI’s efforts resulted in a successful rescue of two victims who were being extorted by the money laundering organization in February 2021. Prior to the extortion, one of the victims, an employee of the money laundering organization, began stealing illicit funds from a bank account that he controlled for the organization. Under pressure from the organization to return the stolen funds, the victim and his family member concocted an unsuccessful scheme to repay the debt: He stole an additional $30,000 from the money laundering organization to purchase a tortilla machine, intending to resell it for a profit. The pair owed a substantial debt to the money laundering organization.

When Esparragoza and Ramirez learned of the theft, they conspired to threaten and extort the pair to repay the funds.  Esparragoza sent Amaya Nava to threaten the men and their families.  Amaya Nava has admitted that he drove the two men around Imperial and San Diego County to collect money from bank accounts they controlled. According to admissions in Amaya Nava’s plea agreement, Esparragoza also directly threatened the men and their families during several phone conversations that day, telling them that two truckloads of men from Tijuana would “take care of them” if they did anything stupid.

The FBI learned of the ongoing extortion after being alerted by an informant and began tracking the victims and Amaya Nava’s movements.  Amaya Nava drove with the men from El Centro to San Diego in an effort to collect additional money from an associate of one of the victims. FBI agents coordinated with the National City Police Department to conduct a traffic stop wherein Amaya Nava was arrested and the two victims were rescued. 

Arrests and fugitives

To date the investigation has resulted in the arrests of Amaya Nava and Luis Ramirez, who were charged with extortion and money laundering charges; Ivan Correia Zamora, Ricardo Torres, Kimberlly Reyes, Hector Francisco Vizcaino Moreno, Luis Armando Avila, and Cheliann Rivera Vazquez who are facing money laundering charges; Melvin Rosado (aka) Cristian Cruz Polanco has been arrested on money laundering and aggravated identity theft charges. Sugey Caro Salazar and Idsel Valenzuela have been arrested and charged with narcotics trafficking and money laundering. Enrique Daan Esparragoza Rosas has been charged with money laundering and extortion offenses. Enrique Daan Esparragoza Rosas has been charged with money laundering and extortion offenses. All but two defendants are pending trial. Enrique Daan Esparragoza Rosas and Ivan Correia are fugitives.

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