By Trevor Reid
GREELEY — Almansitas Mexican Food restaurant in Greeley is one of 17 restaurants implicated in a federal drug trafficking and money laundering investigation, with each of those restaurants having their accounts frozen and assets seized by federal authorities.
The original court filing from Nov. 13, has been sealed, but court filings in response to the charges from Almansitas owner Ana Cejudo hint at the allegations.
Cejudo in her response says the restaurant has never served as a drug trafficking front, nor has it laundered money, according to federal court filings.
But the response also refers to Drug Enforcement Administration databases and two safe deposit boxes seized by federal authorities containing more than $805,000.
The response also touches on money laundering operations, including a reference to layering — in which criminals use complex financial transactions to hide illegal sources of cash.
The case against Cejudo and Almansitas could also sweep up other Mexican restaurants, including Taco Star, with locations across Colorado, as it appears many of the same people are involved, and those people also appear to share a bank account, according to court filings.
Despite the similarities between Almansitas and Almanzas — both 24-hour Mexican food restaurants with similar menus, signs and food — the restaurants are listed under different owners, the latter belonging to a Tomas Lopez Alamilla, according to Secretary of State business filings.
In Cejudo’s response, she asserts that Almansitas and Almanzas are separate entities owned by different people.
Taco Star is filed under a registered agent named Carolina Almanza, who shares a mailing address with Almansitas, according to business filings. But no one with the surname Almanza is listed as a defendant in the case.
In her response, Cujedo admits Cosme Gutierrez, another defendant listed in the court filing, is an owner of Taco Star. Cujedo also admits she, Gutierrez and Almansitas are the claimants for a single bank account, according to court records.
Gutierrez claims to be one of the owners of Almansitas in his response to the initial filing and is listed as a founder of the restaurant in its 2014 articles of organization. Cujedo, Gutierrez, Almansitas and Taco Star are being represented by Thomas Fleener, a Wyoming and Colorado criminal defense attorney based in Laramie.
The responses reference analyses of seized accounts dating back to October 2015. The responses also reference a section of the original filing titled “Connections between Jose Aguilar and Narcotics Trafficking.” The same Aguilar appears to own a bank account also associated with a business called El Potosino Foods, LLC, prosecutors asserted in the original filing.
When asked over a Friday evening phone call about the federal case, an Almansitas employee spoke with a man working at the restaurant before responding that they can’t give any information out.