$2.4 million recovered from two Arizona women charged with money laundering in Madison County
MADISON COUNTY • Officials found nearly $2.4 million in alleged drug money hidden in the car of two Arizona women driving through Illinois.
Francisca B. Encinas, 43, and Yesenia A. Guillen, 38, both of Tucson, were each charged with two counts of money laundering Sept. 6 in Madison County.
The two women were found with $2.399 million in several hidden compartments throughout their 2015 red Chevrolet Suburban.
Madison County officials said that more than $500,000 was found in the car when the charges were initially announced. Officials only identified $500,000 then because it was the minimum amount required to justify the charges, said State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons. Officials began the drug asset forfeiture process Thursday to seize the $2.4 million.
Encinas and Guillen were southbound on Interstate 55 when they were pulled over by an Illinois State Police trooper for allegedly speeding and having an obstructed license plate, according to the Madison County State Attorney’s office.
The officer became suspicious when Guillen acted nervous and the two women told inconsistent stories about their travels, according to court documents. Guillen agreed to the officer’s request to search the vehicle and a K-9 drug dog found evidence of narcotics inside.
A girl from Arizona was also sitting in the backseat of Guillen’s car. Neither Guillen or Encinas are the girl’s legal guardian. She has been placed in protective custody.
Guillen later told officers that she had driven from Tucson to California, where other people picked her car up in the morning and returned it at night. She didn’t know what they put in the car.
Guillen, Encinas and the juvenile passenger then drove the car to Reading, Pa. Other people picked up the car and then returned it to her four days later.
Guillen told police she was instructed to take the car, which she assumed they put cash in, back to California. She said she was getting paid $15,000 to make the trip and giving Encinas $5,000 for accompanying her. She told officers she was communicating with the unknown suspects using “Whatsapp,” a texting application, on her phone.
Guillen and Encinas are being held at the Madison County Jail in Edwardsville without bail.
Gibbons said drug traffickers frequently Illinois highways as a pipeline to move drugs and money.
“While $2.4 million seems like a lot of money to most of us, it’s a drop in the bucket for drug cartels,” he said. “It disgusts me to think this is happening on a regular basis.”