Twenty-two individuals face charges after a Miami-Dade money laundering ring has been busted. The ring (which included individuals name superstars/pop culture icons, such as “Neymar,” Pitbull” and” Tony Montana”) stands accused of using close to a dozen Miami-Dade business to to send millions of dollars in cocaine profits to Colombia. One of their clients was none other than the notorious plug for the world, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
This case is the first one involving the “black market peso exchange” to be filed in Miami-Dade state court. The investigation was dubbed “Operation Neymar,” due to one of the conspirators being nicknamed after the Brazilian soccer star. More than $1 million was seized. It is believed that they were washing about $1 million on a monthly basis. According to The Miami Herald:
According to them, one of the major players in the group was Mexican Sinaloa Cartel member Juan Manuel Alvarez Inzunza, 34, who was arrested by Mexican authorities last month. He is suspected of laundering billions of dollars of drug proceeds.
He is now awaiting extradition to the United States, where he will first stand trial on federal charges in San Diego. For now, he has not been charged in the Miami-Dade case.
The two big players being charged are suspected money-laundering brokers for the cartel in Cali, Colombia: Ivan Alfredo Castro Santana and Ivan Andres Lizarazo Mendoza, who was nearly kidnapped and killed by the Colombian cartel after police in Miami seized $200,000 in drug money.
They are being charged with racketeering and money laundering. Lizarazo’s sister in Miami, Sidia Milady Lizarazo Mendoza, is also accused of money laundering and is now being held on a $1 million bond in a Miami-Dade jail.
Authorities arrested three alleged players this week in Miami. Another was busted in Boston. Yet another was knocked in Cali, Colombia and awaits extradition to the United States.
The feds say the ring used Blackberry burners to communicate, using coded language. The Herald details the “black market peso exchange” as follows:
The Mexican cartels use credit to buy loads of cocaine from their counterparts in Colombia. The drugs are smuggled into the United States, then routed to cities across the country where they are sold to dealers who peddle them to users.
The resulting millions in drug dollars, temporarily stored in “stash houses,” must then be converted to pesos for the Colombian cartel.
So the cartel employs a money broker know as the primera mano, or first hand, who arranges to buy U.S. dollars in exchange for a cut of the proceeds. He, in turn, puts out a “bid” — all arranged through covert Blackberry text messages — for sub-brokers willing to buy the dollars.
Sub-brokers then turn to Colombian businesses that need U.S. dollars to buy goods or services from the United States. For those businesses — say a Bogotá electronics store needing to buy U.S. cellphones — it’s way cheaper to buy dollars from the black market than through official Colombian channels that charge high exchange rates, plus hefty taxes and fees.
A Bogotá business might place an order with a Miami distributor for a load of phones, makeup or textiles, telling them their payment will arrive via a wire transfer from an unnamed “third party.”
“If as a business you are receiving funds or interacting with third parties that are alien to your business transaction, you’re in the middle of a black-market scheme,” said John Tobon, South Florida’s HSI Deputy Special Agent in Charge.
Investigators believe most Miami companies involved in the black-market peso exchange have a general idea of what’s going on — but ask no questions. In Operation Neymar, prosecutors identified, but did not charge, 11 local businesses, including M2 Wireless of Doral, Dis Cells Corporation of Miami Beach and Hair and Accessories of Opa-locka.
“Pick-up crews” are hired to get the cash from couriers, always in mundane public spots, the money stuffed in shopping bags, backpacks or shoe boxes. In the newly charged case, some of the pick-up spots included a Starbucks in Doral, a parking lot at the Dolphin Mall and a Dunkin’ Donuts in New Jersey, prosecutors said.
The next step: The pick-up crew begins depositing the cash into a “funnel” bank account, all in small increments to avoid attention from law enforcement. Those accounts then wire the money to the Miami business, which in turn sends its goods such as cellphones to the Colombian business.
Back in Colombia, that legitimate business pays back its pesos to the brokers, who can finally pass the money to the cartel.