San Diego, California - Luis Fernando Figueroa of Tijuana pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to money laundering charges, admitting that he worked with others to launder and transfer money to Mexico through accounts he opened up at Wells Fargo as a personal banker.
Figueroa’s arrest by the FBI in November 2018 was the last in a string of indictments and arrests tied to the international money laundering organization based in Tijuana, Mexico but operating primarily in San Diego. To date, eight former members and leaders of the organization have been arrested and charged in San Diego. Six of those arrested have pleaded guilty.
According to the indictment and other public records, the international money laundering organization laundered approximately $19.6 million dollars in narcotics proceeds on behalf of Mexican based drug trafficking organizations to include the Sinaloa Cartel between 2014 and 2016.
“We can’t allow our banks to be laundromats for cartel cash,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “Bank employees who launder drug money for traffickers will face prosecution and prison.”
“Today’s conviction shows the dedication and depth of the FBI’s efforts to dismantle money laundering organizations,” said Suzanne Turner, FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge of the San Diego Field Office. “With our law enforcement partners, we will continue to strike at the heart of narcotics trafficking by pursuing each and every member of money laundering organizations who feed the proceeds of illegal and dangerous drug trafficking back to the cartels.”
According to court documents, the money laundering organization recruited individuals to serve as funnel account holders to open personal bank accounts at Wells Fargo Bank and other U.S. banks. Figueroa, as a personal banker with Wells Fargo, admitted in his plea agreement that he knowingly opened personal bank accounts at Wells Fargo for the funnel account holders, knowing that those personal accounts would be used to launder funds to Mexico.
Other members of the money laundering organization, known as couriers, travelled to Los Angeles, Chicago, Charlotte, Boston, New Jersey, and New York City to pick up bulk cash narcotics proceeds that ranged from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars in narcotics proceeds. The couriers made contact with individuals holding the bulk cash in private residences or public places such as parking lots and retail stores. The cash was typically concealed in shopping bags, duffel bags or shoeboxes.
Once in possession of the money, the couriers deposited the bulk cash in increments of $22,000 to $45,000 into the funnel bank accounts at Wells Fargo Bank and other U.S. banks controlled by the money laundering organization. The funds were then wire transferred from the funnel accounts to a series of Mexico based shell companies operated by the money laundering organization. Figueroa himself made multiple wire transfers from the funnel accounts knowing that the funds were from unlawful activity. Once in Mexico, the funds were transferred to representatives of the Sinaloa Cartel.
This case is the result of ongoing efforts by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a partnership that brings together the combined expertise of federal, state and local law enforcement. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, dismantle and prosecute high-level members of drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, and money laundering organizations and enterprises. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Blanca Quintero.
DEFENDANT Case Number: 17CR-2203-WQH
Luis Fernando Figueroa Age: 30 Tijuana, Mexico
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
Money Laundering Conspiracy – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1956(h)
Criminal Forfeiture (18 U.S.C. 981(a)(1)(C), 18 U.S.C. 982(a)(1), 28 U.S.C. 2461(c))
Maximum penalty: 20 years’ imprisonment and $500,000 fine
Federal Bureau of Investigation’s San Diego Cross Border Violence Task Force
IRS Criminal Investigations