Gavel

Two people from Nogales, Sonora were sentenced at Santa Cruz County Superior Court last week for helping illegally transfer funds from local banks to accounts in Mexico.

Yajaira Francisca Santa Cruz Silva, 30, was sentenced to a one-year prison term after she pleaded guilty to a Class 5 felony money laundering charge. Juan Daniel Osuna Valencia, 32, was given one year of unsupervised probation for a conviction on a Class 6 felony charge of securing the proceeds of an offense.

According to her pre-sentence report, Santa Cruz controlled an account at a bank in Rio Rico that, during a period of approximately five months, received a little more than $195,000 in cash deposits, of which nearly $193,000 was wired to third-party accounts in Mexico in sums just below the $10,000 required reporting threshold.

“The totals and nature of the transactions indicate this account’s sole purpose was to remit money for third parties, while Santa Cruz had no license to do so,” the report says.

Most of the deposits made into the account in Rio Rico were made by Santa Cruz, according to the report.

Osuna, on the other hand, opened an account with the same bank – identified in court documents by the initials W.F. – which saw only limited action: a $9,000 cash deposit, $8,750 of which was wired to Mexico. A memorandum submitted by his lawyer said that he was a reluctant participant in the scheme, and only made the single transfer after he was threatened. His pre-sentence report says he stopped making transactions because he lost his U.S. visa.

Both Santa Cruz and Osuna said they were recruited for the job through people they knew from work, and described being handled by a woman who accompanied them to one of the bank’s branches, and gave them money and written instructions for what to do with it.

The investigations of both suspects were handled by agents with the Department of Homeland Security, and Santa Cruz’s pre-sentence report said she was suspected of working on behalf of an operation referred to as the E.K. Money Laundering Operation.

Neither Santa Cruz’s not Osuna’s reports referred to other co-defendants. But the modus operandi described in the documents matches that described in other criminal cases stemming from an alleged conspiracy to funnel millions of dollars in cash to Mexico through fraudulent accounts opened at the Wells Fargo bank branch in Rio Rico.

Carlos Antonio Vasquez, the former branch manager, has been charged in federal court along with a woman named Maria Concepcion Gonzalez Garcia, who also faces charges in the local court system. The two were allegedly part of a scam that used illegal “funnel” accounts to wire approximately $10.2 million to Mexico.

Last December, two other defendants – Modesto Rodriguez Armenta and Fernanda Molina Lopez, both of Nogales, Sonora – were each sentenced at Santa Cruz County Superior Court to three years of unsupervised probation and 120 days in jail after pleading guilty to a Class 6 felony count of second-degree money laundering. Cases against at least three other people connected to the scheme are currently pending in the local court system.

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