Forty people are accused of running a San Diego-based international money laundering organization with ties to a Mexican cartel according to indictments unsealed Thursday.
Federal officials say the criminal enterprise was built on so-called “money movers” who used secret code words to communicate and handed off cash in stores, hotels, and restaurants across the U.S. including here in San Diego.
Anywhere from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue from illegal drug sales were hidden within compartments in vehicles, luggage, duffel bags and shoeboxes, prosecutors say.
The cash would be deposited into bank accounts across the U.S. and then sent via wire transfer to Mexican bank accounts.
Following the money movers led the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cross Border Violence Task Force (CBVTF) to multiple drug trafficking cells across the U.S., prosecutors said. Those cells import and distribute large quantities of drugs like heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl, federal officials said in a news release.
Sixteen defendants charged in San Diego have been arrested in Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and elsewhere.
Jose Roberto Lopez-Albarran, 32, of Culiacan, Mexico was arrested in San Diego on Feb. 9. He's accused of overseeing the network of people to launder the profits of cartel leaders without leaving a trace.
Undercover agents worked for Lopez-Albarran for several years to gain the trust of those in leadership positions and help lead to the seizure of $6 million, more than 200 pounds of meth, 10 kilograms of fentanyl and other illicit drugs as well as weapons.
Manuel Reynoso Garcia, 62, of Tijuana, Mexico, and four other defendants were arrested between Jan. 11 and Jan. 17 in San Diego. Five additional defendants were already in custody.
No banks were charged in the federal indictments.