Money laundering suspects don’t show up for court hearing

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CHARLESTON — Two Arizona residents arrested in Mattoon earlier this year on suspicion of money laundering failed to appear at a scheduled court hearing Monday.

New arrest warrants were issued for Carmen-Lorenda Nistor, 30, and Catalin Nistor, 35, who were allowed to return to their home state after an agreed-to bond reduction in their cases about three weeks after their arrests.

The bond agreement included a requirement that the two suspects sign extradition waivers. The waivers meant they wouldn’t contest authorities’ attempts to return them to Illinois to face the charges if they didn’t appear voluntarily.

The two Phoenix residents were arrested on April 8 after police said they found about 40 gift and debit cards and just more than $25,000 in cash in their van.

The investigation revealed that the cards had been altered in a way “consistent with money laundering and narcotic trafficking,” according to records in their cases.

In addition to charging the Nistors with money laundering offenses, the Coles County State’s Attorney’s Office has also filed a forfeiture case against them.

It claims the money that was found and the Nistors’ van should be forfeited because they were used in connection with criminal activity. That case is separate from the criminal proceedings and no hearings are set in that matter.

On Monday, Circuit Judge Teresa Righter scheduled a hearing for July 11 to review the criminal case and decide if the earlier $1,000 bond each of the Nistors posted should be revoked.

Righter granted the request from Assistant State’s Attorney Rob Scales to issue the new arrest warrant and set an additional $2,500 bond for each suspect. Attorney Sean Britton, who represents both Nistors, objected.

The original bond amount for the suspects was $100,000 each.

When the earlier bond reduction was granted, Scales said he agreed to that move because of the amount of time it’s expected to take to investigate the case.

He mentioned that criminal suspects in custody have to go to trial within four months of their arrests unless they agree to a delay. The time needed for the Nistors’ case could take longer than that, Scales said.

Also at that time, Britton said he thought the Nistors would return to Illinois for their court hearings and their arrest was largely a result of language barriers and cultural differences.

According to the cases’ records, the search of the Nistors’ van came after police responded to a report of a man, later identified at Catalin Nistor, panhandling for money in the parking lot the Mattoon Wal-Mart.

Catalin Nistor told police that Carmen-Loredana Nistor, his wife, was waiting for him in their van, which was parked nearby in the parking lot of the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, according to the records.

Police then asked for and received permission to search the van after they smelled a strong odor of marijuana coming from it, the records also say.

The search of the Nistors’ van also located a business card from a business in Des Moines, Iowa, the records also say. When local police contacted authorities in that city, they were told that the business is suspected of being a front for drug trafficking, they say.

The money laundering charges are the only charges on file against the Nistors so far. Money laundering is a felony offense that can result in a prison sentence of three to seven years with a conviction.

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