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How federal agents uncovered two siblings laundering drug money for the Sinaloa Cartel

October 24, 2016  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
How federal agents uncovered two siblings laundering drug money for the Sinaloa Cartel

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Federal agents spent over two hours taking pictures of two siblings who went to seven different banks, making cash deposits of just under $10,000 at each one.

Alejandra Salgado and her brother, Francisco, look like seemingly ordinary tourists roaming the streets of midtown Manhattan. Prosecutors allege that the flurry of deposits, all of which are piles of drug money stashed in their bags, was one of the many plans plotted by Mexican drug cartels to bring billions of dollars in drug profits back from the U.S. without attracting suspicions from bank regulators.

Prosecutors allege that the flurry of deposits, all of which are piles of drug money stashed in their bags, was one of the many plans plotted by Mexican drug cartels to bring billions of dollars in drug profits back from the U.S. without attracting suspicions from bank regulators.

The cartels accumulate and send back much of their proceeds from the U.S. market in the same way that cocaine and other drugs come in, by smuggling it across the border back into Mexico.

Mexican Cartel-Money Launderers

Federal agents spent more than two hours snapping photos of two siblings, Alejandra Salgado and her little brother Francisco (pictured), who visited seven banks, stopping at each one to make cash deposits just under $10,000

However, the usage of conventional banks remains prevalent, according to James Hunt, the head of the DEA’s New York City office.

The trick is to keep bank deposits minimal because banks are required to notify the government of cash deposits of $10,000 or more.

The advantage, he said, is that if investigators catch onto such a plan, less money gets seized. The bagmen also often face less prison time.

“It’s a little more time-intensive, but it’s not as heavy a hit if you get caught,” Hunt stated.

Before they were arrested in late September, the siblings were given assignments to launder approximately $1 million a month obtained from drug dealers working with the infamous Sinaloa cartel, prosecutors revealed.

Bridget G. Brennan, the Special Narcotics Prosecutor (left) said her office prosecuted the case. James Hunt (right) head of the Drug Enforcement Administration's NYC office said the trick is keeping deposits small, because banks have to report cash deposits of $10,000

Bridget G. Brennan, the Special Narcotics Prosecutor (left) said her office prosecuted the case. James Hunt (right) head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s NYC office said the trick is keeping deposits small because banks have to report cash deposits of $10,000

Investigators allege that 59-year-old Alejandra Salgado, who has a Mexico City address and was in the country on an expired visa, was managed by a high-ranking member of the criminal organization.

Agents started surveillance in New York after her name appeared in a money-laundering investigation in southern California, Arizona, and Michigan being conducted by the IRS, DEA Drug Enforcement Task Force, Homeland Security, and other local agencies.

At one time, the woman served as a courier who transported drug proceeds across the border, The Daily Mail reported.

She was later assigned by cartel officials to deposit funds into numerous bank accounts under fake names, and she would then write checks to a San Diego produce company, which was operated by the cartel.

Alejandra Salgado will be deported to Mexico once she serves her time of up to four years. Mexican drug lord Ismael 'El Mayo' Zambada, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel

Alejandra Salgado will be deported to Mexico once she serves her time of up to four years. Mexican drug lord Ismael ‘El Mayo’ Zambada, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel

An undercover officer wearing a wire taped her calling the assignment a “hassle,” but she noted that it was safer compared to her previous job.

After her handler had told her there was “a lot of work” for her in New York, so she and Francisco, a resident with an address in Alaska, began staying at a Manhattan hotel during the summer of 2013.

She preferred to collect money from drug dealers in midtown, rather than in their home territories in Washington Heights or the Bronx, for security purposes.

“Like a friend of mine said: ‘This is a business for tough people,'” she noted in a conversation with the undercover operative. “And it’s all based on trust.”

Before the Salgados went to prison last month, they were paid to launder up to $1 million a month collected from drug wholesalers doing business with the notorious Sinaloa cartel, prosecutors said. Detainees (pictured) are members of the Sinaloa cartel

Before the Salgados went to prison last month, they were paid to launder up to $1 million a month collected from drug wholesalers doing business with the notorious Sinaloa cartel, prosecutors said. Detainees (pictured) are members of the Sinaloa cartel

As the siblings were under investigation by federal agents, they made a minimum of two dozen deposits in amounts ranging from about $8,100 to $9,600 at  Manhattan banks from the Upper West Side down to Canal Street.

Tracking the money trail was beneficial to “gain insight into the practices” of drug cartels, according to Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan, whose agency prosecuted the case.

At Francisco’s sentencing, his attorney, Jeffrey Taub, described him as a small fish in “an unfortunate situation.”

The punishment for the cartel money launderers may be less severe than in bigger federal conspiracy cases. Both individuals accepted plea deals which will require them to serve between one and four years behind bars.

Alejandra Salgado’s lawyer, Robert W Georges, said it’s guaranteed that she will be deported once she serves her sentence — a fate that she’s accepted.

“She’s remorseful and looking forward to getting on with her life in Mexico,” the attorney stated.

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