3 wrapped in international drug trafficking ring plead guilty to money laundering
Three individuals allegedly involved in a large narcotics trafficking organization that spanned across the world pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy this week in federal court.
Hector Ortiz, Stephanie Ozuna and Maria Lilia Ozuna entered guilty pleas before U.S. Magistrate Judge Guillermo R. Garcia, records state.
A filed order states a sentencing date will be set after the court receives a final version of the defendants’ presentence investigation reports.
The defendants are three of 35 individuals indicted for their alleged involvement in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl through the use of the U.S. Postal Service or other means such as Federal Express.
Other named defendants include Antonio Romero Jr., Nora Arlette Romero, Tito Garcia, Oscar N. Mancillas, Karina Mancillas-Rubio, Isael Joddai Romero, Eric Arturo Ocampo, Luis Felipe Santos-Alejandro, Daniel Villegas Jr., Jason Aguilar-Blake, Homar Guerrero, Dennis Alvarez Boquin, Loreto Castaneda Macedo, Francisco Javier Salazar-Diaz, Jesus Miguel Torres, Daniel Laurel, Marco Antonio Salazar, Oscar Mancillas Santos, Olga Calzado de Mancillas, Bede Hawkins Jr., Martin Ramirez, Olinda Romero and Jose Luis Ruiz.
They each face various charges including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl, conspiracy to launder drug proceeds and numerous other money laundering violations.
Laredoan Antonio Romero Jr., 30, was identified as the head of the drug trafficking cell that operated out of Orlando, Florida.
The investigation, dubbed Operation Tres Equis, is spearheaded by the Drug Enforcement Administration and is a long-term, worldwide investigation.
“They allegedly used various U.S. bank accounts to transfer drug proceeds from U.S. distribution hub cities to U.S. cities along the Mexican border, including Laredo, and to places outside the United States, such as Mexico, Ecuador and Peru,” the Attorney General’s Office said.
Ortiz and the Orzunas’ plea agreements state that they, along with others, assisted, aided and abetted with functions of the organization to include the receipt and collection of drug proceeds.
Although they are not familiar with all aspects of the organization, the trio admit that they worked for or assisted others in financial transactions while knowing that the transaction was to conceal and disguise the nature, source, ownership or control of the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity, according to their plea agreements.
Ortiz admits to laundering more than $40,000 but not more than $95,000; Maria Ozuna admits to assisting in laundering $15,001; and Stephanie Ozuna admits to assisting in laundering more than $15,000 but not not more than $40,000 during the course of the conspiracy.
Maria and Stephanie Ozuna’s involvement allegedly began when they were recruited by a family member to use their personal bank account to receive out of state cash deposits, followed by immediate cash withdrawals in Laredo, according to their plea agreements.
The total amount of transactions laundered via Maria Ozuna’s account during the course of the conspiracy is $28,500. Transactions laundered through Stephanie Ozuna’s account totaled $47,500. Each transaction was under $10,000, court records state.
Ortiz was recruited by defendants Laurel and/or Oscar Mancillas to use his personal bank account to receive deposits and conduct withdrawals, according to his plea agreement.
The total amount of transactions deposited into Ortiz’s accounts include $129,450 in deposits from Nov. 12, 2015 to Feb. 9, 2016 from Massachusetts for immediate withdrawal in Laredo.
The defendants allege they were not aware of what happened to the funds after they were delivered, but knew the funds must be proceeds from some illegal activity, otherwise, they would not have been asked or paid to assist in conducting these type of transactions that conceal the trust ownership and source of funds.
The trio claim they would hand withdrawn cash to others and would receive a fee of about $200 per transaction for the use of their accounts and for the withdrawal of funds.