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Published:October 19th, 2006 03:46 EST
26 Arrested in International Drug Bust

26 Arrested in International Drug Bust

By SOP newswire

John P. Gilbride, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration in New York joined with federal and state law enforcement partners today to announce the coordinated takedown of an international money laundering investigation that targeted a Colombian criminal organizations that laundered millions of Colombian drug dollars through the sophisticated Black Market Peso Exchange, an illegal currency exchange system.

“Drug traffickers bring poison into our communities for one reason------to make money. Today’s indictments and arrests prove that we are going after what the drug traffickers cherish most----their money,” said Gilbride. “Narcotic traffickers who profit from the laundering of millions of dollars in drug proceeds can no longer feel safe beyond the borders of the United States. The DEA will continue to diligently follow the money and pursue all the members of these drug trafficking organizations both domestically and internationally.”

“Operation Plata Sucia,” resulted in the arrest of 26 defendants who were charged with money-laundering in Bogota and Cali, Colombia, New York, New Jersey and Florida. More than $10 million in drug proceeds and $6.5 million in cocaine, heroin, and marijuana were seized as part of the operation. Seizure warrants were also issued for bank accounts throughout the United States used to further the money-laundering process.

Of the 26 defendants arrested today, 7 were arrested in Bogota, Colombia, 7 were arrested in Cali, Colombia, 2 was arrested in Florida and 10 were arrested in New York.

According to two indictments and a complaint (collectively, the “Charging Documents”) unsealed in Manhattan Federal Court, the defendants arrested today participated in the Colombian Black Market Peso Exchange (the “BMPE”). The BMPE is an informal currency exchange system in which one or more “peso brokers” serve as middle-men between narcotics traffickers who control massive quantities of drug money in the United States and Colombian businesspeople seeking to purchase cheap U.S. dollars outside the highly-regulated Colombian banking system, it was charged.

According to the Charging Documents, the BMPE system involves three steps. First, narcotics traffickers sell their drug dollars in the United States to peso brokers in Colombia in exchange for Colombian pesos. Second, the peso brokers use criminal associates in the United States to collect the drug money and deposit the illicit funds into the United States banking system. Finally, the peso brokers sell the drug dollars to Colombian businesspeople seeking cheap dollars outside the legitimate Colombian banking system to purchase goods to be imported back to Colombia. All of the transactions in the BMPE process are verbal, without any paper trail, and the disconnection between the peso transactions in Colombia and the dollar transactions outside of Colombia make discovery of the money-laundering crimes by international law enforcement extremely difficult. Because of these inherent advantages, the BMPE system has become one of the primary methods through which Colombian narcotics traffickers launder their illicit funds.

One of the money-laundering methods detailed in the charging documents unsealed today involved the use of Colombian drug proceeds in New York to purchase used truck parts. More specifically, a peso broker, who was based in Colombia, obtained contracts to launder Colombian drug proceeds in New York, and then worked with other defendants to collect the money on the streets. After the drug money was collected, it was transferred to another defendant, who in turn exchanged the drug proceeds for used truck parts from a scrap yard he controlled in Lindenhurst, New York, that were ultimately shipped in containers to Venezuela and Colombia and resold for pesos, it was charged.

“Operation Plata Sucia,” was an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (“OCDETF”) investigation led by the New York OCDETF Strike Force, and involving the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the IRS, the NYPD Organized Crime Investigative Division, the DEA, ICE, the FBI, the NYSP, and the SCPD, as well as the Colombian Departmento Administrativo De Seguridad (“DAS”).

The investigation targeted the BMPE system from top to bottom -- from the peso brokers in Colombia, to the peso brokers’ criminal associates in the United States who collected the drug proceeds for placement into the United States banking system, right down to the businesspeople who knowingly acquired the cheap drug dollars to purchase goods to be imported back to Colombia.

If convicted, the defendants arrested today face a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment on the money laundering charges.

The charges contained in the charging documents are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Joining Gilbride at the press conference were MICHAEL J. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, MARK EVERSON, the Commissioner of the United States Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”), RAYMOND W.KELLY, the Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), MARTIN FICKE, the Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) in New York, ANDREW ARENA, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) in New York, WAYNE BENNETT, Superintendent of the New York State Police (“NYSP”), and RICHARD DORMER, Police Commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD).