How a drug car­tel banked its cash in NYC

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

In the photos, Ale­jan­dra Sal­gado and her lit­tle brother Fran­cisco look like or­di­nary tourists strolling the streets of mid­town Man­hat­tan. He car­ries a shop­ping bag. She wears a white dress, a neck­lace and a leather tote slung over one shoul­der. But the out­ings were hardly in­no­cent. Over two hours, fed­eral agents snapped pic­tures as the pair vis­ited seven banks, stop­ping at each one to make cash de­posits of just un­der $10,000 - all from piles of drug money stashed in their bags.

Pros­e­cu­tors say the flurry of mod­est de­posits was one of the many schemes hatched by Mex­i­can crime car­tels try­ing to bring bil­lions of dol­lars in drug pro­ceeds back from the United States with­out at­tract­ing scru­tiny from bank­ing reg­u­la­tors. The car­tels col­lect much of their cash pro­ceeds from the U.S. mar­ket much the way the co­caine and other drugs come in, by sneak­ing it across the border.

But us­ing reg­u­lar banks re­mains in the mix, said James Hunt, head of the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s New York City of­fice. The trick is keep­ing de­posits small, be­cause banks are re­quired to report cash de­posits of $10,000 or more to the gov­ern­ment. The ben­e­fit, he said, is that if in­ves­ti­ga­tors do catch onto such a scheme, less cash gets con­fis­cated. The bag­men also of­ten face less jail time. “It’s a lit­tle more time-in­ten­sive but it’s not as heavy a hit if you get caught,” Hunt said.

Be­fore they went to prison late last month, the Sal­ga­dos were paid to laun­der up to $1 mil­lion a month col­lected from drug whole­salers do­ing busi­ness with the no­to­ri­ous Si­naloa car­tel, pros­e­cu­tors said. In­ves­ti­ga­tors say Ale­jan­dra Sal­gado, 59, who has a Mex­ico City ad­dress and was in the US on an ex­pired visa, was su­per­vised by a high-rank­ing mem­ber of the car­tel.

Agents be­gan watch­ing her in New York after her name came up in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of money-laun­der­ing cells in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Michi­gan and Ari­zona be­ing con­ducted by in­ves­ti­ga­tors from the DEA Drug En­force­ment Task Force, De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, the IRS and lo­cal agen­cies. De­tails from the case files of fed­eral agents and nar­cotics pros­e­cu­tors pro­vided to the AP of­fer a look in­side how the Sal­ga­dos op­er­ated.

At one point she had been a courier who would drive drug money over the border. But later, she was as­signed by car­tel lead­ers to de­posit funds into mul­ti­ple bank ac­counts held un­der fake names, then write checks to a pro­duce com­pany in San Diego con­trolled by the car­tel. An un­der­cover in­ves­ti­ga­tor wear­ing a wire recorded her call­ing the as­sign­ment a “has­sle”, but safer than her pre­vi­ous gig.

‘Lot of Work’

After her han­dler told her there was “a lot of work” for her in New York, she and her brother, a le­gal resident with an Alaska ad­dress, set up shop at a Man­hat­tan ho­tel in the sum­mer of 2013. She pre­ferred to col­lect pay­ments from lo­cal drug deal­ers in mid­town, rather than in their home ter­ri­to­ries in the Bronx or Wash­ing­ton Heights, for se­cu­rity rea­sons. “Like a friend of mine said: ‘This is a busi­ness for tough peo­ple,’” she said in a con­ver­sa­tion with the un­der­cover agent. “And it’s all based in trust.”

While un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the sib­lings made at least two dozen de­posits in amounts rang­ing from about $8,100 to $9,600 at banks lo­cated from the Up­per West Side to Canal Street. Fol­low­ing the money trail was worth­while to “gain in­sight into the prac­tices” of the car­tels, said Spe­cial Nar­cotics Pros­e­cu­tor Brid­get G. Bren­nan, whose of­fice pros­e­cuted the case. At Fran­cisco Sal­gado’s sen­tenc­ing, his lawyer, Jef­frey Taub, por­trayed him as a small fish in “an un­for­tu­nate sit­u­a­tion”. The penal­ties for the laun­der­ers can be lighter than in big­ger fed­eral con­spir­acy cases. The brother and sis­ter took plea deals re­sult­ing in sen­tences of 1 to 4 years.

Ale­jan­dra Sal­gado’s at­tor­ney, Robert W Ge­orges, said it’s cer­tain his client will be de­ported once she serves her time - a fate she’s ac­cepted. “She’s re­morse­ful and look­ing for­ward to getting on with her life in Mex­ico,” Ge­orges said. Prison and de­por­ta­tion prob­a­bly wasn’t what Sal­gado had in mind when she told an un­der­cover agent, in a recorded call, that be­ing a money courier was a nice way to make a liv­ing in a treach­er­ous drug world. “I live in peace and I live tran­quil,” she said.

In this Aug 2013 sur­veil­lance photo pro­vided by the US Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion, Fran­cisco Sal­gado and his sis­ter Ale­jan­dra walk on New York’s Third Av­enue in mid­town Man­hat­tan where au­thor­i­ties say they made mul­ti­ple cash de­posits at banks within a few blocks of each other as part of a Mex­i­can car­tel money-laun­der­ing scheme. Au­thor­i­ties say the pair en­tered seven dif­fer­ent banks mak­ing cash de­posits of just un­der $10,000, all from piles of drug money they were car­ry­ing in de­signer purses and shop­ping bags.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.