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Thursday, 28 April 2011

Six people involved in a Brownsville drug trafficking and money laundering scheme plead guilty in a South Texas federal court.

Six people from the lower Rio Grande Valley entered their pleas in a Corpus Christi federal courtroom late last week. They were involved with smuggling large loads of cocaine to Dallas and Atlanta from Brownsville. They also received millions of dollars in drug proceeds to be smuggled into Mexico.

ICE agents raided six homes, including one in Brownsville, last month. They seized more than half a million dollars during the raid, which has been forfeited already.

Investigators say five people were involved in transporting 5 kilos of cocaine out of the Valley over the last two years. They say Arturo Gomez was the ringleader and used his auto repair shop as a front. That's where the drugs and money proceeds were received and delivered.

They say Magda Zendejas, Reyna Ceballos, Julio Gonzalez and David Alcala all helped with the drug trafficking and money laundering operation.

All five will be sentenced in august and face up to life in prison.

Prosecutors say Vanessa Weaver took $16,000 into Mexico without declaring it. She'll face as much as five years in federal prison when she gets sentenced in late June.

The U.S. Attorney's Office is trying to get the defendants to forfeit a 38-acre property in Georgia, a half million dollars in drug proceeds and 20 vehicles seized in the raid. Together, they are worth $1.5 million.

Two Philadelphia Police officers, a detective and 12 others have been arrested by the DEA on charges involving the sale of steroids.

These arrests come come on the heels of a long-term investigation by the DEA and the Philadelphia Police Department.

A 17-count indictment was unsealed on Wednesday morning.  All 15 individuals have been charged with conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids.  

The indictment alleges that Keith Gidelson, a Philadelphia Police Detective, operated an anabolic steroid and human growth hormone (HGH) distribution organization in Philadelphia and throughout the United States.   The indictment goes a step further to detail that Gidelson's co-conspirators, who he allegedly sold the drugs to, distributed the drugs to their own customers.

Gidelson allegedly obtained the drugs from overseas suppliers.  He, and his wife, who was also named in the indictment, stored and packed steroids in their Philadelphia home.  

Police Officers Joseph McIntyre and George Sambuca were also named in the indictment.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey spoke about the latest arrests.  "It's a hard day when our own members tarnish the badge.  It's also a sign that we are committed, however, to fighting for out values of honor, service and integrity for all men and women in blue who do the right thing and work every day to make Philadelphia a safer city."

If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum of ten years in prison and hefty fines.

Ignacio Alvarez Meyendorff is suspected of working for the once-powerful Colombian Norte del Valle drug cartel.

authorities in Argentina say they have detained a Colombian man they accuse of being the brains behind the submarines used to smuggle drugs to the United States.

Ignacio Alvarez Meyendorff is suspected of working for the once-powerful Colombian Norte del Valle drug cartel.

Mr Alvarez denies the allegations.

Drug traffickers are increasingly using submarines to avoid being caught by the security forces patrolling the water's surface.

Deputy Security Minister Miguel Robles said Mr Alvarez was arrested on Sunday with help from the US Drug Enforcement Administration, but news of his arrest were only made public on Wednesday.

Mr Robles accused Mr Alvarez of being in charge of the logistics behind the underwater smuggling scheme, and of perfecting the system.

He said Mr Alvarez was detained as he arrived in Buenos Aires on a flight from Tahiti.

Local media reported that he had been living in Argentina since 2005, and had resided in an exclusive area of the Puerto Madero neighbourhood.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

cocaine smugglers had bought the plane with money they had laundered through one of the biggest banks in the United States: Wachovia, now part of the giant Wells Fargo.

cocaine smugglers had bought the plane with money they had laundered through one of the biggest banks in the United States: Wachovia, now part of the giant Wells Fargo.

The authorities uncovered billions of dollars in wire transfers, traveller's cheques and cash shipments through Mexican exchanges into Wachovia accounts. Wachovia was put under immediate investigation for failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering programme. Of special significance was that the period concerned began in 2004, which coincided with the first escalation of violence along the US-Mexico border that ignited the current drugs war.

Criminal proceedings were brought against Wachovia, though not against any individual, but the case never came to court. In March 2010, Wachovia settled the biggest action brought under the US bank secrecy act, through the US district court in Miami. Now that the year's "deferred prosecution" has expired, the bank is in effect in the clear. It paid federal authorities $110m in forfeiture, for allowing transactions later proved to be connected to drug smuggling, and incurred a $50m fine for failing to monitor cash used to ship 22 tons of cocaine.

More shocking, and more important, the bank was sanctioned for failing to apply the proper anti-laundering strictures to the transfer of $378.4bn – a sum equivalent to one-third of Mexico's gross national product – into dollar accounts from so-called casas de cambio (CDCs) in Mexico, currency exchange houses with which the bank did business.

"Wachovia's blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations," said Jeffrey Sloman, the federal prosecutor. Yet the total fine was less than 2% of the bank's $12.3bn profit for 2009. On 24 March 2010, Wells Fargo stock traded at $30.86 – up 1% on the week of the court settlement.

The conclusion to the case was only the tip of an iceberg, demonstrating the role of the "legal" banking sector in swilling hundreds of billions of dollars – the blood money from the murderous drug trade in Mexico and other places in the world – around their global operations, now bailed out by the taxpayer.

At the height of the 2008 banking crisis, Antonio Maria Costa, then head of the United Nations office on drugs and crime, said he had evidence to suggest the proceeds from drugs and crime were "the only liquid investment capital" available to banks on the brink of collapse. "Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade," he said. "There were signs that some banks were rescued that way."

Wachovia was acquired by Wells Fargo during the 2008 crash, just as Wells Fargo became a beneficiary of $25bn in taxpayers' money. Wachovia's prosecutors were clear, however, that there was no suggestion Wells Fargo had behaved improperly; it had co-operated fully with the investigation. Mexico is the US's third largest international trading partner and Wachovia was understandably interested in this volume of legitimate trade.

José Luis Marmolejo, who prosecuted those running one of the casas de cambio at the Mexican end, said: "Wachovia handled all the transfers. They never reported any as suspicious."

"As early as 2004, Wachovia understood the risk," the bank admitted in the statement of settlement with the federal government, but, "despite these warnings, Wachovia remained in the business". There is, of course, the legitimate use of CDCs as a way into the Hispanic market. In 2005 the World Bank said that Mexico was receiving $8.1bn in remittances.

During research into the Wachovia Mexican case, the Observer obtained documents previously provided to financial regulators. It emerged that the alarm that was ignored came from, among other places, London, as a result of the diligence of one of the most important whistleblowers of our time. A man who, in a series of interviews with the Observer, adds detail to the documents, laying bare the story of how Wachovia was at the centre of one of the world's biggest money-laundering operations.

Martin Woods, a Liverpudlian in his mid-40s, joined the London office of Wachovia Bank in February 2005 as a senior anti-money laundering officer. He had previously served with the Metropolitan police drug squad. As a detective he joined the money-laundering investigation team of the National Crime Squad, where he worked on the British end of the Bank of New York money-laundering scandal in the late 1990s.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Juan Ortiz-Lopez was arrested at his home in Quetzaltenango by a US and Guatemalan joint task force on Wednesday.

Guatemalan and US agents have captured Guatemala's top drug trafficker in a joint effort to prevent the Latin American country from being absorbed into Mexico's drug wars.

Considered Guatamela's most important drug smuggler, Juan Ortiz-Lopez was arrested at his home in Quetzaltenango by a US and Guatemalan joint task force on Wednesday.

He was being protected by only two bodyguards, who were arrested as well.

The 41-year-old is suspected, along with others in his gang, of exporting tons of cocaine into Mexico and the US.

Manuel Orozco, of the US-based think tank Inter-American Dialogue, says that while Ecuador has a weaker economy, drug money is easier to launder in Guatemala.

The United States signed a deal six years ago to prevent Guatemala from falling into the same pattern as neighbouring Mexico.

Throughout Mexico, drug gangs fighting for territory have killed more than 36,000 people during the past four years.

Earlier this month, US President Barack Obama pledged another 140 million euros to combat drugs in central America after visiting El Salvador.

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