Two defendants in an alleged conspiracy to funnel millions of dollars in cash to Mexico through fraudulent accounts opened at a bank in Rio Rico have been convicted and sentenced for their roles in the scam.
Modesto Rodriguez Armenta, 60, and Fernanda Molina Lopez, 28, both of Nogales, Sonora, were each sentenced on Dec. 2 at Santa Cruz County Superior Court to three years of unsupervised probation and 120 days in jail.
Both defendants had previously pleaded guilty to a Class 6 felony count of second-degree money laundering for their supporting roles in the conspiracy.
According to Molina’s pre-sentence report, she was arrested as part of a federal investigation of a money laundering organization while trying to cross into Mexico through the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry on Aug. 12. She had previously been seen making transactions on behalf of the organization at the Rio Rico bank branch.
During a post-arrest interview, Molina reportedly told investigators that a co-worker with the initials M.C.G.G. had asked her to open a bank account in the United States. The coworker said it was legal and she would be paid $95 for doing it.
The coworker’s initials correspond to those of Maria Concepcion Gonzalez Garcia, a 47-year-old Mexican citizen who was named as a co-conspirator in the scam in a five-count indictment filed Oct. 23 at U.S. District Court in Tucson.
Molina said she met with M.C.G.G. on Aug. 6 at a restaurant and was told to get into a vehicle with an unknown male, who then took her to the bank in Rio Rico. The man sat with her as she opened the account and gave her $9,900 to deposit in it.
She said she repeated the same procedure on Aug. 12 with a different man, identified in court documents by the initials E.M. She was supposed to do a wire transfer from the account the following day, but instead she was arrested at the port. Molina reportedly admitted to an investigator that at that point, she believed they were laundering money.
Following her arrest, a federal agent took Molina back to the bank so she could withdraw the funds and turn them over to the government. Then she was booked into the Santa Cruz County jail and subsequently prosecuted in the county court system.
Carlos Antonio Vasquez, the 39-year-old former branch manager of the Wells Fargo bank in Rio Rico, has also been charged in the case, but in federal court.
An indictment filed Oct. 23 at U.S. District Court in Tucson alleges that from Feb. 17, 2017 until Sept. 12, 2019, Vasquez used his position at the bank to open accounts in the names of people who did not in fact control them. Instead, he and other co-conspirators including Gonzalez Garcia used the accounts to wire approximately $10.2 million to Mexico, the indictment alleges.
Rodriguez, the other defendant sentenced this month at Santa Cruz County Superior Court, was also arrested at the DeConcini port on Aug. 12 while trying to cross into Mexico, his pre-sentence report says.
Following his arrest, he reportedly told an investigating agent that he had met a man with the initials E.M. through a coworker, and that on Aug. 5, the man drove him to the bank so he could open an account with $10,800 that E.M. had provided to him. A bank employee helped him fill out the account application, he said, and when it was completed, he gave all the relevant documentation to E.M., who was present when he opened the account and for subsequent transactions.
The initials E.M., which were also mentioned in Molina’s pre-sentence report, correspond to those of Enrique Monarque Orozco, a co-defendant who has also been charged in the local court system. Monarque’s case is still pending resolution at Santa Cruz County Superior Court, as are the cases against two additional co-defendants: Kenya Martinez Tello and Maria De Los Angeles Duarte.
Modesto told the agent that on Aug. 9 he was given $9,800 to deposit in the account, and on Aug. 12, he deposited another $8,500.
He reportedly said he had been paid $95 for each transaction, and said it was obvious they were laundering money.
The agent then took Modesto to the bank’s branch in downtown Nogales so he could withdraw the funds that were still in the account and turn them over to the government.
During his sentencing hearing on Dec. 2, Judge Thomas Fink gave Modesto and Molina credit for the 111 days they served in jail prior to sentencing. Those days were counted against the 120 days they were ordered to serve as part of their probation.