San Diego: 200 count Indictment accuses 9 of money laundering
According to the 200 count indictment, a Tijuana airplane broker, Vicente Contereras Amezquita and 8 others conspired through 2007 until 2012 to facilitate the purchase of Cessna airplanes for drug traffickers. The 44 year old Amezquita was arrested last week, and in federal court yesterday, he remains in custody awaiting a detention hearing on July 30th.
The indictment alleges Amezquita and his conspirators laundered 3.6 million dollars in drug proceeds, in the 5 year time period they were operating. The conspirators engaged in "convoluted financial transactions" to purchase Cessnas and plane parts, including tires. The deposits were all made in increments of under 10,000 to avoid scrutiny, in a process known as structuring.
The payments, deposits, and transfers were made from 46 different bank accounts in 5 different states in the 5 year time span of the alleged conspiracy. The charging documents state that Amezquita picked up the drug proceeds in strip malls, parking lots, fast food restaurants, and airplane hangars. This is very similar to the way the defendants in a another money laundering case out of Chicago conducted their business.
That case was unsealed in March, 2015 with over 60 indicted in a complex gold for cash laundering scheme, with traffickers bringing cash to money laundering cells, connected to trafficking groups in Sinaloa.
The San Diego indictment alleges the purchase of 35 planes during the course of the investigation. This unsealed indictment comes months after Operation Narco Polo, a massive far reaching operation that indicted most of Sinaloa's upper management, and San Diego distribution cells. The indictment states that traffickers favor the 210 Cessna model plane to run drug shipments, assumedly places like Guadalajara and Sinaloa to Baja California and Sonora.
Amezquita, 44, of Tijuana, lived in San Diego throughout the course of the conspiracy. He recruited friends to open up bank accounts, and assist in the money laundering. The 200 count indictments most serious charge is conspiracy to commit money laundering, depending on various factors be a 10 year or more prison sentence. If one recalls the Zetas money laundering case out of Texas, several defendants received 20 years in prison.
Small planes, nearly identical to the ones purchased are commonly seized in lower Baja, with large shipments of cocaine, heroin, and crystal. Also in social media profiles of Ivan Archivaldo and Alfredo Guzman, small engine planes are frequently seen in pictures. It is unknown why the indictment was under seal for so long, if the investigation concluded in 2012, nor is it clear what the defendants were doing in the years between 2012 and 2015. Amezquita is being held at the San Diego Metropolitan Correctional Center, which at the moment is home to Chino Antrax, Serafin Zambada Ortiz, and many codefendants in Operation Narco Polo and related cases.
Sources: San Diego Union Tribune, El Mexicano, La Jornada