Six people were charged, including four Paterson residents, on Wednesday for their alleged role in a $27 million money laundering scheme that converted drug money into cashier’s checks as a way to transfer drug proceeds out of the United States.
Felicia Almonte, 54, of Passaic City; Erickson Checo-Almonte, 29, of Passaic City; Julio De La Cruz-Acosta, 40, of Paterson; Willy Cruz-Bonilla, 22, of Paterson; Jordano Abreu-Diaz, 24, of Paterson; and Enmanuel Nunez-Reyes, 26, of Paterson, were each charged with conspiracy to launder drug proceeds and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.
Between July 2016 and January 2019, the six people charged and other conspirators purchased 1,059 cashier’s checks that were made payable to individuals and companies specified by money brokers working for drug trafficking organizations with ties to Dominican Republic, Colombia, and other countries, authorities said.
$27 million in drug money was converted into cashier’s checks, authorities said.
The “money broker” for the laundering organization directed the defendants. This person arranged to pick up millions in drug proceeds in and around New Jersey, New York, and elsewhere, according to charges, to convert them to cashier’s checks using banks.
Authorities said the six people took cash to banks in which they had accounts and purchased cashier’s checks. Each was made payable to companies and individuals dictated by the laundering organization.
The money broker told the six people that if banks asked about source of the cash to say they work at a liquor store and the cash is related to that business. Cash used to purchase a cashier’s check is usually not deposited into the person’s bank account which means the transaction does not appear on the person’s bank statement. In the rare instance a particular bank required the person to deposit the cash into their account to buy a cashier’s check, the defendants were instructed to not continue with the transaction and use a different bank, according to charging documents.
In some case, when a bank allowed, defendants, changed the name of the remitter, person paying for the cashier’s check, to further conceal the source of illicit funds. The defendant gave the cashier’s check to the money broker who then deposited them into thirty-party accounts or sent the checks to the money laundering organization.
U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito’s office said the scheme was designed to conceal the nature, source, ownership, and control of the illegal drug proceeds to avoid scrutiny by law enforcement and banks.
The six people charged typically got $150-$200 for each purchased cashier’s check.
Authorities said the six people could face a maximum of 25 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.