Through two owners of currency exchange centers captured in Colombia, the Sinaloa Cartel launder millions of dollars from the sale of drugs, and transported shipments of cocaine to the United States.
The detainees pending extradition, are linked to the group of "El Atlante", a drug trafficker imprisoned since 2014.
In less than two years, Guadalupe Ayon Omar Diaz and Osvaldo Contreras Arriaga launder more than 45 million dollars for the Sinaloa Cartel from the sale of drugs in the United States, through exchange centers in Tijuana and companies in Sinaloa.
By Inés García Ramos
Sought by Interpol, wanted by the US Federal Prosecutor and the Attorney General's Office (PGR), the two men were far from keeping a low profile.
Traveling from Culiacan, Sinaloa, to the Tijuana border and the United States, they cruise around California, eating lobster in the tourist area of Puerto Nuevo in Baja California and were protected by a group of bodyguards.
Osvaldo Contreras Arriaga, accused of trafficking cocaine.
On their last trip, they were arrested. On different days, the two partners arrived at the port of Cartagena, on the Caribbean Sea, north of Colombia.
The arrival of Osvaldo Contreras Arriaga on Wednesday August 19, 2015, at the Núñez de Cartagena International Airport, triggered alerts in the Immigration Department of Colombia.
Arriving from Panama, the 27-year-old was identified as a member of the Sinaloa cartel, according to the Interpol Red Alert issued by the US government.
It was then that the decision to search for his partner was made, Omar Guadalupe Ayón Díaz, was staying at a hotel on the outskirts of the city of Cartagena.
Colombian officials detained him for "crimes of money laundering, organization, or association with a criminal group," the Colombian authorities said. As Contreras Arriaga, he had an Interpol Red Alert.
The two men remain in Colombia, awaiting extradition to the United States to be prosecuted in federal court.
Drug money hidden in cars
Also known as “Ahijado”, “Ahijado VIP”, “Thor” and “Cejas” Ayon Diaz owns and operates several currency exchange centers in Tijuana.
The 36 year old man began working as a cashier in one of 15 currency exchange centers owned by Miguel Ángel “Micky” Márquez Treviño, imprisoned since 2009 on charges of money laundering for the Arellano Felix Cartel.
Since April 2013, the two detainees, together with a third man identified as Joel Acevedo Ojeda, alias “El Peludo”, “El Peludín", “Bisholo” or “Manuel”, conspired to transport, transfer monetary instruments and funds between Mexico and the United States to support a drug trafficking network.
Osvaldo Contreras Arriaga (white) and Omar Diaz Guadalupe Ayon. Detained in Colombia, will be extradited to US.
This is indicated in the indictment accepted by the Federal Court of the Southern District of California, which ZETA has a copy.
"The goal of this conspiracy was to move large amounts of money, proceeds of illicit sale of drugs trafficked from Mexico to the United States," the report said.
At the same time they will introduced large quantities of drugs from Mexico to storage houses in California for distribution in the United States, Ayon Diaz and Contreras Arriaga ran the smuggling of millions of dollars to be laundered in currency exchange centers in Tijuana.
For this they used couriers who hid bundles of dollars in secret compartments in cars to leave the United States to avoid detection by customs agents.
"These couriers will also smuggled dollars from Mexico to US banks to make deposits and then perform wire transfers in Mexico with money already converted into pesos," said the indictment.
The money, that was not deposited in bank accounts in Mexico, was delivered directly to the drug cartels, documents filed with the Court explained.
Although the accused were using coded messages and communicated through Nextel radios and BlackBerry cell phones to organize the movement of drugs and dollars, the US authorities discovered their strategies.
For the crime of money laundering, the maximum penalty in the United States is 20 years.
Individually, Osvaldo Contreras Arriaga is accused of leading a cocaine trafficking network in the Southern District of California.
Besides this, if convicted the prosecution will request that, the three men delivered to the Federal Government "any money or property involved in the offense and any property traceable to such for not less than 45 million" amount calculated on profits earned by the defendants.
"El Atlante" exchange centers
In Tijuana, Guadalupe Ayon Omar Diaz appeared as currency exchange owner, attending public meetings, accompanied by his bodyguards, he moved between different exchange centers to oversee its operation.
One such exchange center is Centro Cambiario Titán, located in a small shopping center in colonia El Prado, right in fron of the Municipal Auditorium.
The plaintiff withdrew the labor dispute in June 2015. Months earlier, in March, the last hearing had vented.
In turn, Ayón Díaz was working for Alfonso Lira Sotelo “El Atlante” and his family, who controls one of the main drug plazas of the Sinaloa Cartel in the Tijuana border.
Intelligence of the State Council of Public Security points to Guadalupe Ayon Omar Diaz and Osvaldo Contreras Arriaga as direct subordinates of the Lira Sotelo family.
After the arrest, the Coordination Group of Baja California informed that the Lira Sotelo family had restructured themselves to continue activities related to drug trafficking, such as executions, money laundering, extortion and kidnapping.
As head of the criminal cell was another brother of the drug trafficker Javier Sotelo Lira “El Carnicero” or “El Hanibal”, this according to information held by the Security Council, which have had at least two unsuccessful attempts to capture him in Tecate so far in 2015.
Authorities themselves say that Alma Delia, the sister of both criminals continues with the financial operations, however, ministerial sources consulted indicated that no formal charges have been filed against the woman, neither a warrant against her exist.
Both are assisted by the main partner of "El Atlante" Jorge Joaquín Valbuena Álvarez “El Español” while the Tecate area is under the control of Francisco Javier Payán Pérez “Nanis” as it was reported by the State Intelligence.
Public Security authorities explained that, for the operation of currency exchange, capital flow and money laundering, the Lira Sotelo family hired the services of Contreras Arriaga and Ayón Díaz.
However, they were detected by police forces, which captured more than once the two accused men when they were in Tijuana.
Even Ayon Diaz went straight to the State Preventive Police (PEP) on January 2, 2014 to request not to be harassed, since being currency exchange owner he was constantly stopped by police, he argued.
Perfect business for money laundering
There are bout 300 currency exchange center in Tijuana, a whooping 25% of all the establishments of this type in the entire country, according to figures from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI).
At least $15,000 dollars are exchange per window on daily operations, either selling or buying foreign currency.
AML experts consulted by the Weekly, explained that to launder money through an exchange center, transactions have to be under $ 500 and thus avoids filling reports to the Secretariat of Finance and Public Credit (SHCP).
As a second step, currencies are exported to the United States by companies engaged in buying dollars, which grant the peso equivalent of these amounts.
"The exchange centers, by definition, can not launder money because that money has to internalize the financial system, but if you already have bank accounts, then these pesos are placed in them," another of the sources said.
And so they did the. Documents by US authorities, revealed that bank accounts where the laundered money was transferred belonged to the drug cartels.
One of the exchange centers linked to "El Atlante"
In addition to the Exchange Center Titan, Omar Guadalupe Ayon Diaz and Alma Delia Lira Sotelo, have other known exchange centers located in the fraccionamiento El Florido East Zone of the city, on the Boulevard Insurgentes and several more on Boulevard Agua Caliente.
On behalf of Alma Delia Lira Sotelo, the SHCP issued the key financial identity 0CCBI0. While Omar Diaz Guadalupe Ayon appears in the catalog of money transmitters, issued in October 2007 by the Ministry of Finance.
Wanted but protected in Mexico
Sources at the Attorney General's Office (PGR) confirmed that the Deputy Attorney of Specialized Investigation of Organized Crime (SEIDO) maintains an open investigation against Ayon Diaz for the crime of operating with illegal proceeds and other issues.
Case record UEIORPIFAM / AP / 202/2014, open October 30, 2014 by the Special Unit of Investigations for Operating with Illicit Resources and Forgery or Alteration of Currency.
Therefore, from that date his savings accounts, checking, trusts, including a bank account at Scotiabank, as well as contracts, loans and securities in the institutions of the national financial system were frozen.
In this preliminary investigation companies linked to them are Acuícola Castper and Cote Corporación Técnica Empresarial, located in Sinaloa, as well as the involvement of 29 people.
A day after the investigation began, the National Banking and Securities Commission (CNBV) recorded the license renewal of Titan Exchange Center in Tijuana, with number 178484 whose first record dates back to November 1, 2011.
In fact, information in the hands of the control board CNBV -Updated 24 August 2015 indicates that this exchange house, whose owner is identified as Guadalupe Ayon Omar Diaz successfully met all the operations control requirements, as well as reports of cash dollars and audits.
Apparently this exchange house operated within the legal framework, Ayon Diaz filed for legal protections for himself and his family.
An unresolved process 68/2015, filed in early 2015 in the First District Court in matters of Amparo and federal trials in Tijuana, against the president of the CNBV.
Followed by the process 222/2015 in the Second District Court of Amparo and federal trials, also in Tijuana, filed April 10, 2015 for a possible order of presentation against the SEIDO, but because of his absence the injunction was dismissed.
Similar, process for protection of the seizure, of his bank account, in relation to the investigation that the PGR maintains against him.
Another injunction further promoted, is the process 947/2015 in the First Court of Amparo and federal lawsuits against the Secretary of Public Security of Tijuana, filed August 11, 2015, to protect him from detention or arrest order.
In this protection orders, are both Omar Guadalupe and his brother Alexis Ayon Diaz. Although the issue is still not resolved, a provisional suspension of arrest was granted.
While Ivan Ayon Pedro Diaz, another of his brothers, was arrested by the State Preventive Police on August 31, 2013 for failing to verify the provenance of 270 thousand pesos in cash, he promoted an injunction 982/2015 against the Attorney General.
This process is dated August 24, 2015, five days after the arrest of his brother in Colombia.
Properties in Tijuana and Sinaloa
Additionally, authorities are investigating the relationship between the illicit activities of Osvaldo Contreras Arriaga and one of his sisters, who serves as air traffic controller at the airport in Tijuana and, following the arrest of her brother, she went to Colombia to visit him in jail.
The Contreras Arriaga family is originally from Culiacan, Sinaloa. Osvaldo Contreras was born on February 18, 1988 in that city, and some of his brothers and him, have residence in Tijuana.
The celebrations and festivities of the family of the 27 year old, identified as a member of the Sinaloa Cartel, constantly are shown in sections of the local newspapers and in Social Media in Sinaloa.
Intelligence units of the State Council of Public Security, identify two homes belonging to Osvaldo, the first incolonia Paseos del Florido East Zone of Tijuana.
While in Culiacan, Sinaloa, he has another home in fraccionamiento Villas del Río. He received a building permit from the Department of Urban Development and Ecology, dated April 24, 2013.
Meanwhile, her sister has an apartment valued at $930,000 pesos, acquired in 2013 into a luxury division of Tijuana. In addition, in 2014 she bought a property in delegation La Mesa.
Another property in the name of Guadalupe Ayon Omar Diaz, born on December 12, 1978, was located in colonia Mariano Matamoros.
Additionally, in 2010, Ayon Diaz took a loan of $50,000 pesos awarded by a textile manufacturer in the city, under the guarantee of a land in delegación San Antonio de los Buenos, which was bought four years earlier for $132,000 pesos.
Although for years the US authority followed the footsteps of Omar Guadalupe Ayón Díaz and Osvaldo Contreras Arriaga, the charge against them remained quiet until early September, after the arrest of both men.
In Mexico, this members of the Sinaloa Cartel traveled and lived as businessmen. Now they live under the watch of the Attorney General's Office in Colombia and awaiting extradition to the United States.