Gavel

A man who investigators described as “one of the main coordinators” of a wide-ranging conspiracy to illegally send millions of dollars to Mexico through bogus bank accounts opened in Santa Cruz County was sentenced to a year in prison and four years of probation.

Cesar Alejandro Ortiz Manzano, 36, of Nogales, Sonora, was sentenced on Nov. 9 at Santa Cruz County Superior Court by Judge Thomas Fink after he pleaded guilty to two offenses.

As punishment for Ortiz’s conviction on one count of solicitation to illegally conduct an enterprise, a Class 5 felony, the judge gave him a one-year prison term, with credit for 124 days served in custody prior to sentencing.

And for the second conviction, which came on a Class 3 felony money laundering offense, Fink sentenced Ortiz to four years of probation to follow his release from prison.

Ortiz is the latest among a number of defendants who have been convicted for their roles in the conspiracy, in which people were recruited and paid to open bank accounts, primarily at the Wells Fargo branch in Rio Rico, which were then used to “funnel” money into Mexico via wire transfers.

The accounts were generally opened with cash amounts totaling less than $10,000. But once they were opened, investigators say, the accounts began receiving large cash deposits from bank branches in Arizona and elsewhere in the United States. 

The scheme, which involved dozens of co-conspirators, reportedly resulted in more than $10 million in suspected drug-trafficking proceeds being sent across the border since 2012.

According to his pre-sentence report, Ortiz’s role included transporting people to the bank so that accounts could be opened in their name. He was also accused of bringing cash across the border from Mexico to deposit in the accounts, and of receiving illicit wire transfers into his own bank account in Mexico.

U.S. investigators began making arrests in the scheme beginning in late 2019, but Ortiz wasn’t taken into custody until he tried to enter the country through the Mariposa Port of Entry on July 8, 2020. It was reportedly the first time in more than a year that he had tried to cross into the United States.

Following his detention at the port, Ortiz reportedly admitted to special agents from Homeland Security Investigations that he had been part of the conspiracy, and that he had been paid $300 per wire transfer and $100 each time he carried cash across the border for deposit. He estimated that he earned $600-$800 per week from his activities.

According to his pre-sentence report, Ortiz also received 17 transfers into his Mexican bank account from banks in Nogales and Rio Rico that totaled $682,335.

Ortiz reportedly said that he never asked where the money was coming from.

Earlier this fall, Judge Fink sentenced Enrique Monarque Orozco, who played a key role in opening and controlling the funnel accounts, to 2.5 years in state prison. Monarque now faces similar charges in federal court.

Other co-conspirators who played lesser roles have been convicted and sentenced at Superior Court to terms ranging from one year of unsupervised probation to a year in prison.

Carlos Vasquez, the former manager of the Wells Fargo branch in Rio Rico, was indicted on federal charges in October 2019 and is currently awaiting trial at U.S. District Court in Tucson.

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