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Sinaloa Cartel used Chicago as operational hub for money laundering network: Feds

March 17, 2018  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Sinaloa Cartel used Chicago as operational hub for money laundering network: Feds

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A coast-to-coast drug network managed by Mexico’s infamous Sinaloa Cartel smuggled millions of dollars through drop sites across the U.S. until the FBI dismantled a secret laundering network used Chicago as an operational hub, officials say.

The cartel, which was headed by billionaire drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman until his extradition to the U.S. last year, is still behind 80% of street-based drug sales in Chicago, according to ABC7.

As JammedUp News reported, seventy-five people across the U.S. now face charges in a case based in San Diego that was built on a complex money laundering conspiracy that spanned through the Midwest.

Authorities said that cartel operatives dispatched money movers to Chicago to obtain bulk cash from drug transactions and then deposit the cash into domestic bank accounts set up through a series of “funnel” banks.

Once the cash was deposited into funnel bank accounts, authorities claim that co-conspirators made international wire transfers to bank accounts in Mexico associated with false businesses that the cartel could then access.

During the probe that was concluded early this year, federal agents seized over $6 million and 1130 pounds of meth, heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and marijuana along with 20 guns, including handguns and semiautomatic rifles.

Cartel money couriers “concealed and transported amounts from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars in narcotics proceeds, hidden within vehicles, luggage, duffel bags, and shoeboxes,” according to federal investigators.

They added that the cash hand-offs took place in parking lots of retail stores, hotels, and restaurants in Chicago, and in several other cities across ranging from Philadelphia to Los Angeles.

Cartel smuggling operations were becoming increasingly reliant on vehicles with hidden chambers called “traps” that appear like they’re a normal part of the vehicle. Instead, they’re covered compartments for drug operatives to transport cash.

Frequently, authorities indicated, the high stakes money laundering efforts include drop points in the parking lot of a local shopping mall-out in the open. One such incident took place in August 2016 outside Louis Joliet Mall in Chicago. On that day, federal drug officials were present.

“As soon as they get out of their car-pop, pop, pop! Somebody was shooting at them. I dove back in the car, I could hear bullets going by me in the car,” motorist Larry Sodomire said. Two gunmen were taken into custody and pleaded guilty in February to drug conspiracy. One of them confessed to shooting his gun at police.

Although this was a similar incident-and time frame-the DEA’s spokesperson in Chicago on Monday said that their Joliet parking lot shootout in 2016 was not tied to the newly-filed case.

According to those most recent charges, Jose Roberto Lopez-Albarran was a “significant” broker for a Mexican-based money laundering team and laundered tens of millions in drug proceeds from the U.S. to Mexico between 2015 and 2018.

Lopez-Albarran, 32, was taken into custody in San Diego on February 9th and remains in custody. He reportedly supervised a network of operatives that transferred millions to drug suppliers with the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico.

He is among 40 purported drug associated apprehended in San Diego, some of whom have not been publicly identified. Another 35 individuals have been targeted in other cities for their purported roles in the plot. Officials indicated that those individuals are in the Southern District of Ohio, the Eastern District of Kentucky, the District of Kansas, and the Eastern District of Washington.

This is the latest blow to the drug empire that was once led by “El Chapo” Guzman. Since the drug lord was arrested in January 2016, his cartel remained in chaos. El Chapo has been federally indicted in Chicago, New York, and several other jurisdictions in the U.S. and is currently being prosecuted in Brooklyn. He remains in custody without bond at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.

The 60-year-old drug lord played a principal role in Mexico’s decade-long drug war that has killed over 100,000 people. He is facing life behind bars if he is found guilty at trial.

Even in his absence from the cartel scene, the drug cartel he led continues to infiltrate American cities with cocaine, heroin, meth, and fentanyl that is smuggled over the border.

“Taking on and stopping transnational criminal organizations requires dedication and sacrifice,” District Attorney Summer Stephan stated. “This undercover operation has brought down high-level cartel associates and stopped the distribution of drugs like heroin and fentanyl in San Diego and cities across the U.S.”

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