Feds indict Parkites on money laundering, drug charges

By Bubba Brown

Federal prosecutors indicted two Parkites on drug and money laundering charges, accusing them of using money from marijuana sales to operate a popular Salt Lake City concert venue and purchase property in Park City.

The 13-count indictment, announced Monday, names Gabriel Seth Elstein, 33, and his wife Angela Christina Elstein, 32, both of Park City, as well as St. George resident Scott Dale Gordon, 48. Prosecutors say they used multiple suppliers and drivers over a period of several years to transport more than 2,000 pounds of marijuana from California to Salt Lake City, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin. Dumbles Holdings, LLC was also listed in the indictment.

Prosecutors accuse the trio of using $1.3 million from marijuana sales to build The Complex music venue, describing regular payments of $50,000 of cash in shrink-wrapped bags to the foreman of the construction project. The Elsteins and Gordon laundered at least $5 million through the venue and a music promotion business Bondad Productions, the indictment states.

The indictment also alleges that the defendants used laundered money to help purchase two properties in the Snyderville Basin, one on the 7000 block of Tall Oaks Circle in Pinebrook and the other on the 4000 block of Hilltop Drive in Jeremy Ranch.

In March, more than 600 grams of marijuana, packaged in five vacuum-sealed bags, as well as a digital scale and packaging material, were found in the Elsteins’ home on the 4000 block of Hilltop Drive, prosecutors say.

Prosecutors are seeking the forfeiture of both Snyderville Basin properties, as well as The Complex. A press release from the U.S. Attorney for Utah, John Huber, noted that the music venue will remain open.

The defendants on Friday were arraigned in federal court, where they pleaded not guilty to the charges, according to the release. They face a sentence of 10 years to life in prison if convicted on a count of conspiracy to distribute marijuana.

Gabriel Seth Elstein and Gordon were charged in February and released on pre-trial conditions. Angela Christina Elstein was added to the indictment last month and released Friday. A trial has been set for Dec. 14.

Attorneys for the defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Money Laundering Tactics Adapting to Colombia Cocaine Boom

By Parker Asmann

A new investigation says that record cocaine production in Colombia is causing criminal groups to diversify the ways in which they launder their money, reflecting the fragmented state of the country’s criminal world.

Criminal groups in Colombia are increasingly diversifying their traditional money laundering techniques involving real estate and large public works contracts, as well as new laundering methods involving cryptocurrencies and non-profit organizations, according to a report from the country’s national anti-money laundering body, the Financial Investigations and Analysis Unit (Unidad de Información y Análisis Financiero – UIAF), El Tiempo reported.

Such changes are occurring amid record cocaine production in the Andean nation.

The article reports that 40 trillion Colombian pesos (around $13 billion) of illicit money have been generated in Colombia, without specifying a time frame. Furthermore, every year 16 trillion pesos (around $5 billion) are moved through different money laundering schemes, according to the UIAF.

El Tiempo also received information that traffickers returning to Colombia and to drug-related activities after serving prison time in the United States have been increasing investment in rural properties since 2016.

The real estate boom that major urban centers like Medellín and Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá saw in the past has now moved on to smaller cities near major coca growing areas, such as Pasto in Nariño, southwest Colombia — the department with the most cocaine — and Popayán in the nearby Cauca department. Property records have grown by 300 percent in Pasto and Popayán alone, according to El Tiempo.

In 2017, Nariño department accounted for more than a quarter of the 171,000 total hectares used for coca cultivation last year, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The UNODC also found that the number of coca hectares in Cauca department increased by 55 percent between 2016 and 2017.

On average, each hectare of coca produces 6.9 kilograms of cocaine, with one kilogram of cocaine selling for around 5 million pesos (about $1,600) in Colombia, meaning that a single hectare of coca could produce up to 35 million pesos in illicit earnings (about $11,500), according to El Tiempo.

While there are no official reports linking the real estate boom in Nariño and Cauca with the illicit money derived from increased cocaine production, Colombia’s outgoing superintendent of Notary and Registry (Notariado y Registro), Jairo Mesa, says he has no doubt about the links between what he calls the country’s “new urbanism” and illegal drug proceeds.

The shift in money laundering techniques used by criminal groups in Colombia is likely tied to the departure of the now largely demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) and the increasingly fragmented criminal landscape that the guerrillas’ exit ushered in.

The more localized makeup of criminal groups in Colombia and the large profits that are coming in amid record cocaine production may help explain the diversification of money laundering techniques and the substantial uptick in property records observed in smaller municipalities in departments that are strategic to the cocaine trade, such as Nariño and Cauca.

“The Mexicans are full of cash and paying quickly for cocaine, so these more regional groups in Colombia are likely looking for places close to their centers of operation to put their money,” Adam Isacson, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) think tank, told InSight Crime.

This is in line with the historic behavior of Colombia’s most notorious drug trafficking organizations, such as the Norte del Valle, Medellín and Cali cartels, according to Douglas Farah, president of the national security consulting firm IBI Consultants.

“Colombian crime groups have traditionally loved to operate in areas where they know the terrain, have family, and know officials and their vulnerabilities,” Farah said. “As you go from large transnational groups to smaller regional groups, there’s not much protection for them in big cities.”

As Colombia’s criminal landscape continues to take shape, it appears that traffickers are adapting their money laundering strategies to best suit the current dynamics of the cocaine trade.

Former Lower Southampton public safety director pleads guilty in $400,000 money-laundering scheme

By Erin McCarthy

Former Lower Southampton Public Safety Director Robert Hoopes pleaded guilty Wednesday to taking part in a money-laundering scheme with a Bucks County judge and a constable, calling it “the first thing that I truly regret that I ever did in my life.”

Judge Gene E.K. Pratter asked him: Why decide to enter the plea now?

“Because I did it,” Hoopes said. “I did the things that are in [the indictment]. … It  was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

“Right after my arrest,” he added, “I was ready to admit my guilt.”

A superseding indictment later painted an even more corrupt picture. Between 2014 and 2016, authorities say, Hoopes, Waltman, and Rafferty shook down several businessmen, with Hoopes often serving as the front man in negotiations.

A former police officer and attorney, Hoopes had been in charge of Lower Southampton’s police department, rescue squad, and two fire departments for less than a year when he was charged and subsequently fired by the township.

Hoopes said he has since separated from his wife, who now lives in California, and retired from his law practice. He lives alone in his family’s Doylestown home, he said, and has struggled with alcohol and post-traumatic stress disorder, which he developed serving in Vietnam.

He stressed to Pratter that he “never had a blemish” on his records as a police officer or lawyer and that he regretted his actions.

But “I’m not worried about myself,” he said. “I’m worried about my family.”

Three of Hoopes’ five daughters attended the hearing and wiped away tears as they sat behind him in court.

Hoopes previously had pleaded not guilty. With Hoopes’ change of plea Wednesday, Waltman, 60, of Lower Southampton, remains the only defendant in the case who has not entered a guilty plea. Waltman awaits trial, scheduled for later this fall, on charges related to the scheme. Rafferty, 63, of Lower Southampton, pleaded guilty in the spring.

At the end of Wednesday’s proceeding, Pratter asked Hoopes whether he ever socializes with anyone allegedly involved in the scheme.

“No, I’ve never seen them or talked to them” since charges were filed, Hoopes said.

22 people indicted in drug trafficking, money laundering scheme

TULSA, Okla. – Authorities say more than a dozen people have been indicted on money laundering and drug trafficking charges.

Officials say the money laundering scheme was based out of Casa Herrera and Servicios Perez in east Tulsa.

Investigators allege that the suspects would take photos of business customers’ IDs and form a library of them for drug traffickers to use while wiring drug proceeds back to Mexico. The IDs belonged to unknowing locals who used the business legitimately to send money to families.

Authorities say the alleged traffickers would then give money to the business for helping them with the operation. The wire transfers were structured to prevent drawing attention to their operation from federal investigators.

However, officials told FOX 23 that they got sloppy and used one man’s ID enough times that it was flagged.

In all, 22 people connected to the business were indicted on the charges.

Arleta man sent to prison for money laundering tied to the Sinaloa Cartel

LOS ANGELES — An Arleta man was sentenced Wednesday to five years in federal prison for his role in a black-market “hawala” money laundering scheme that transferred about $4.5 million on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel and its drug trafficking affiliates.

Sucha Singh, 54, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder to serve three years of supervised release following his 63-month prison sentence. Singh was allowed to remain free pending a Jan. 17 self-surrender date.

“I recognize this may be a one-time offense, but hundreds of thousands of dollars were moved around — and it was drug money,” the judge said from the bench. “There have to be consequences.”

Arguing for a sentence in the three-year range, defense attorney Michael Grahn said that his client’s “religiosity” and need to wear Sikh apparel “puts him in greater risk in custody.”

Singh pleaded guilty two years ago in downtown Los Angeles to charges contained in a three-count federal indictment that charged him and 21 other defendants with conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.

The illegal scheme spanned the world and involved operatives in Canada, India, the United States and Mexico, who laundered drug trafficking proceeds generated from multi-pound sales of narcotics for and on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel and others. The laundered cash was either transported to the Sinaloa Cartel as profits or reinvested in additional drugs to be sold and distributed in the U.S. and Canada, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Speaking through a Punjabi translator, Singh asked the court to forgive him, telling the judge that his family depends on him.

“I made a big mistake,” the defendant said. “I will never make this kind of mistake in the future.”

The 2014 indictment specifically outlined the use of a hawala network, which prosecutors said transferred more than $4.5 million in narcotics proceeds and was involved in the trafficking of 64 pounds of cocaine and nearly 90 pounds of methamphetamine.

Hawala — the Arabic word for change or transform — is an international underground money remittance system based on trust among its participants that allows financial transactions without leaving a paper trail. The necessary trust and long-established connections between brokers are typically based on familial, ethnic, religious, regional and cultural grounds.

Singh’s operation moved “just incredible amounts of cash” around, Snyder said, adding that the money “was not being transferred for conventional purposes.”

Former Rumrunners bouncer sentenced to 20 years for involvement in drug ring, money laundering crimes

By Beth Verge

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) – An Anchorage man was sentenced this past week to 20 years in prison followed by a 10-year term of supervised release for his role in a local drug ring.

Murville Lavelle Lampkin, 45, was sentenced July 10 following a conviction for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and heroin, possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, distribution of heroin, and money laundering, with some of the activity dating as early as January of 2015.

That month, law enforcement officials found about 400 grams of methamphetamine packaged into 15 individual Ziploc baggies inside a locked safe at the foot of Lampkin’s bed. They also discovered smaller baggies into which doses of drugs could be packaged and a digital scale used to measure drug quantities.

The final sentencing follows an eight-day trial in November of 2016, during which evidence presented showed Lampkin was a member of a conspiracy led by Toa Danh “Tony” Ly: Two years earlier, Ly and others had begun to distribute marijuana and methamphetamine in Anchorage, the Valley, and Kenai Peninsula, later adding heroin to the list. Money made from the drug sales was deposited into Wells Fargo bank accounts controlled by Ly, to which Lampkin contributed about $57,000.

According to the Dept. of Justice, Pao Lee, Rennie Davis, Robert Rast, Tracey Trujillo, Mark Hanes and Susan Bradshaw are also known to have sold drugs and made deposits of drug money for Ly.

As for Lampkin, this conviction is his third: In 2002, he pleaded guilty in federal court to distribution and possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. While in custody, he was then convicted – in Alaska state court – of promoting contraband in the first degree for possessing oxycodone and tetrahydrocannabinol.

In 2012, as a bouncer at Rumrunners Old Towne Bar & Grill, he was also convicted in state court of fourth-degree assault following a fight with a patron. He was sentenced in that case to two months in jail and two years of probation.

Read the full DOJ release here.

Businessman pleads not guilty to drug conspiracy, money laundering

By Lorenzo Zazueta

McALLEN — The owner of a Houston-based Chicago-style pizzeria may have played a role in drug trafficking and money laundering, according to an indictment unsealed last month.

During a brief arraignment hearing, a Houston man pleaded not guilty to charges related to an alleged drug trafficking ring going back more than six years.

DeAllen Jerome Nettles stood before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter E. Ormsby Thursday afternoon after his attorney’s written waiver for the arraignment was not accepted by the court, obligating Nettles to appear before Ormsby.

Nettles also waived the reading of the indictment during the hearing, and pleaded not guilty to all three counts he’s facing — one count of conspiracy to distribute more than five kilos of cocaine, and two counts of money laundering.

The indictment alleges in part that the 30-year-old man and at least more than 20 others — the majority of whom have their names redacted in the court record partially unsealed June 13 — conspired to distribute more than 5 kilos of cocaine for more than six years, beginning in May 2012 to the date of the filing this June.

A Chicago nativs, Nettles made his initial appearance in a Houston federal courtroom June 13 and was released the next day on a $10,000 bond. His social media profiles state he is the owner of a Houston-based business called ChItalian Pizzeria.

Nettles is also accused of two money laundering charges, one alleged incident occurred in November 2012, the other Dec. 29, 2015, the court documents state.

The second money laundering charge gives more detail, showing Nettles allegedly moved more than $300,000 to Mexico from Chicago “with the intent to promote the carrying on of specified unlawful activity that is the distribution of a controlled substance,” according to court documents.

In total, the feds are looking to seize more than $150,000 in property, and more than $7 million in U.S. currency as part of the case against the multiple defendants, court records show.

Nettles remains free on the $10,000 bond. Nettles’ attorney, Houston-based Cornel A. Williams, declined comment based on his policy not to comment on pending litigation.

Jury selection is set for Aug. 7, with the trial beginning shortly after, court records show.

11 charged in massive drug, money-laundering conspiracy

By Kevin Grasha

Among the 11 people from the Cincinnati-area charged in a drug and money-laundering conspiracy, is a man who prosecutors say used a Green Township home to distribute drugs.

Prosecutors say the conspiracy involved the distribution of fentanyl, ketamine, cocaine and heroin.

A federal indictment unsealed Monday says one of the defendants, 33-year-old Ricardo Campbell, used a home on Silverpointe Drive in Green Tonwship to distribute drugs.

The indictment says 16 other homes or properties were likely purchased with drug proceeds or through other illicit means. They were located throughout the city, as well as in Fairfield and West Chester.

In addition to Campbell, the others charged are: Keiron Ashurst, 53; Teron Campbell, 26; Vernon Coffee, 51; Derwin Gadson, 22; Shanda Green, 39; Jeronda Kelley, 36; John T. Moore Jr., 33; Timothy Mosely, 34; Patricia O’Neal, 37; and Ronnie Parrott, 33

Gadson and Parrott have not yet been arrested, officials said.

Moore, who owned and operated construction and real estate companies, bought four of the properties by allegedly defrauding mortgage lenders, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

He is accused of falsifying bank statements and overstating the value of other properties he claimed to own, the news release said.

Moore, Green and Kelley are accused of structuring financial transactions to evade taxes as well as money laundering. Officials say that in 2016 the trio made cash deposits of various amounts, ultimately totaling $270,000, into seven bank accounts.

In little over a month last year, prosecutors say they deposited more than $230,000 into various accounts.

Guatemala’s efforts to fight corruption are under attack

GUATEMALA CITY — Recent headlines about the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a key institution leading the fight against corruption in this country, seem taken straight out of a Cold War playbook: They accuse Russia of subverting the commission in order to further the Kremlin’s interests.

In reality, the U.N.-sponsored anti-corruption body, set up in 2006 to investigate high-level corruption, has been maliciously attacked by groups seeking to degrade its mission. They have used false claims regarding the Bitkovs, a Russian family convicted of identity fraud, to undermine support in Guatemala and in the U.S. Congress for the CICIG.

Some media coverage has reflected a lack of knowledge of the Guatemalan justice system and has echoed a brazen misinformation campaign, driven by a well-financed lobbyist.

Three Russian nationals — Igor Bitkov; his wife, Irina, and their daughter Anastasia — were convicted as part of an investigation by the public prosecutor’s office that targeted a criminal network inside the national immigration agency and other entities that provided fake passports and documents to foreigners and locals. The risks that these types of networks present for regional security (including to the United States) are clear.

The court established that the Bitkovs entered the country legally in 2009 and purchased fake identities that they used to settle in Guatemala, set up companies and obtain travel documents. Igor Bitkov obtained two different identities. The Bitkovs did not request refugee status upon entering the country and, despite later allegations, it seems they never presented any evidence of political persecution by Russia.

The court sentenced the Bitkov family to the maximum sentence according to the Guatemalan penal code for the crimes committed.

The fraud case began in 2010 and convicted dozens of people, including government officials and human traffickers. Nonetheless, some media accounts in the United States and also in Guatemala have reduced the complex case to a single claim: The Bitkovs are victims of the CICIG, which, influenced by Vladimir Putin, manipulated the proceedings and is thus responsible for their conviction. This is a completely baseless accusation.

These accounts attribute powers to the CICIG that are outside its mandate. The commission is an international body born of an agreement between the government of Guatemala and the United Nations to support Guatemalan law enforcement to investigate and dismantle criminal structures that have held state institutions captive for generations, ensuring impunity for a whole range of serious crimes. Two separate Guatemalan government administrations worked with the U.N. to develop the mandate and three subsequent administrations signed mandate extensions so that the CICIG could continue its efforts. The commission has received funds and other support from at least a dozen countries, including strong support from the United States.

The CICIG has been accused by the media and others of being influenced by the state-owned Russian bank VTB, which was the largest creditor of the Bitkovs’ firm, to manipulate the proceedings and even affect the decision over the guardianship of Vladimir Bitkov, the Bitkovs’ young son, or over the conditions of the family’s detention. The CICIG has no authority in these areas, and no evidence has been presented to substantiate these claims.

The Bitkovs have been treated fairly. They were represented by lawyers of their choice and have had access to available procedural and appeal remedies. In April, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ruled that a criminal court will rehear their case.

Since its establishment, the CICIG has decisively contributed to the strengthening of Guatemala’s institutions. Under the leadership of its current commissioner, Iván Velásquez, the CICIG has supported the public prosecutor’s office in identifying and dismantling networks of corruption. So far, two presidents, several ministers, members of Guatemala’s Congress, judges and influential members of the private sector have been prosecuted. As a result of a joint investigation by the public prosecutor’s office and the CICIG, the current president of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, is accused of illicit campaign financing. He ordered the commissioner expelled last year.

These sectors see the Bitkov case as a Trojan horse to undermine the fight against corruption and organized crime in Guatemala. They have found support in billionaire Bill Browder, who, convinced that the Bitkovs have been victims of Russian persecution and determined to secure their release, sees the CICIG as a means of exerting direct pressure among members of the U.S. Congress. Browder should seek to support the Bitkovs without destabilizing Guatemala.

The backing of the United States in our struggle to strengthen the rule of law and democracy is fundamental. As is the preservation of the CICIG.

Pablo Escobar’s widow, son charged with money laundering in Argentina

By Katherine Lam

Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s widow, her son and a retired Colombian football player were held on Tuesday by Argentine authorities on money laundering charges involving a drug dealer, the country’s official judicial news agency said.

Victoria Henao, Juan Pablo Escobar Henao and Mauricio Serna were charged with being part of a criminal organization devoted to money laundering. The trio are accused of being intermediaries in Argentina for Colombian drug dealer Jose Piedrahita.

They allegedly laundered money for Piedrahita, who was arrested in Colombia in September, through real estate and a café known for its tango performances.

Serna is a former midfielder who helped Boca Juniors win South America’s Copa Libertadores in 2000 and 2001. The team won the 2000 Intercontinental Cup by beating Real Madrid. He was a regular with Colombia’s national team.

The former Medellin Cartel leader’s family has been living in Argentina, relatively out of the spotlight, since the 1990s after Escobar was shot and killed in 1993. In order to escape Escobar’s grim history, Henao changed her name to Maria Isabel Santos Caballero and her son now goes by Juan Sebastian Marroquin Santos.

Henao and her two children lived in fear of possible revenge attacks by Escobar’s enemies for years.

This isn’t the first time the Escobar’s widow and son were accused of money laundering. The family was arrested in 1999 at their Buenos Aires apartment on charges of money laundering and falsifying documents, the BBC reported. They were eventually cleared of the charges, but had each spent time in jail for the incident.

Henao later told local media she was only arrested because of her relation to Escobar.

“I am imprisoned in Argentina for being Colombian, because they want to judge the ghost of Pablo Escobar and because they want to make people believe that Argentina fights drug trafficking,” she said at the time.


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