By Shane Sanderson
Three Wyoming restaurants participated in a multistate drug money laundering scheme, authorities allege in a 50-page civil complaint filed Friday in federal court.
The filings state that Mexican fast food restaurants in Colorado and Wyoming — including Rodolfo’s Mexican Grill in Cheyenne, Rolando’s Mexican Grill in Cheyenne and Almanza’s Mexican Food in Laramie — were involved in a scheme to use falsified invoices to transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars in concert with a Colorado Springs food distributor. When law enforcement raided the Colorado Springs facility, they found more than $35,000 cash. No cash registers or prices for food items were found in the facility, according to the filings.
The bank accounts associated with Almanza’s Mexican Food and Rolando’s Mexican Grill were closed before law enforcement began investigating the case, the documents state.
The man who ran the distribution business, which is known as El Potosino Foods, has connections with a Mexican drug cartel, the documents state. The phone number for Jose Aguilar-Martinez, who owns El Potosino, turned up in previous investigations of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada and Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, although the documents do not specify the investigations or the phone number’s connection to them.
Authorities have said Zambada is a leader of the Sinaloa cartel, which has smuggled billions of dollars worth of cocaine, heroin, meth and marijuana into the United States.
Earlier this month, a jury convicted Guzmán, another Sinaloa cartel leader, of various federal crimes, including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to launder drug proceeds and international drug distribution. His lawyers have said he will seek a new trial following a Vice News report alleging juror misconduct during the case.
The allegations implicating one of the Wyoming restaurants were reported by the Star-Tribune in January. The report drew from responses to a sealed civil complaint filed in November.
In their responses, defendants laid out some of the government’s allegations, including that bank accounts belonging to Hilario Montejano-Aleman, the owner of Rodolfo’s Mexican Grill in Cheyenne, were used in drug money laundering.
Rather than filing documents under seal, prosecutors partially redacted, and on Friday filed publicly, their amended complaint. It revealed more details of the case, which does not bring any criminal action against the alleged money launderers. Instead, the filings seek to require the forfeiture of $1.5 million spread across 15 bank accounts and two safe deposit boxes alleged to be used in the scheme.
The bank safe deposit boxes alone contained more than $800,000 linked to drug trafficking, according to the documents. One of those boxes was filled to capacity with hundreds of thousands of dollar bills that investigators say are tied to drug trafficking. A woman accessed the box at a Colorado Springs bank 16 times over the course of nine years. Every time she appeared pregnant. “Or, in retrospect, carrying the cash inside of a false belly,” prosecutors wrote.
Although the allegations span multiple states and businesses, the investigation began in Wyoming.
Law enforcement began investigating the case in Cheyenne in July 2016 after receiving a report of a suspicious vehicle purchase. That purchase was among multiple turned up by investigators in which purchasers put down $10,000 or more in cash, the documents state. Among those vehicles were a 2007 Cadillac Escalade for which a cook at the Laramie restaurant put down $14,000 cash.
The case also has a Casper connection, although the extent of that connection is not clear. According to prosecutors, a phone number associated with Rodolfo’s called a Casper number that the DEA is investigating in a different case.