A Mexican running a small convenience store and market in Oregon has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for using the business and its money-transmission licences to launder millions of dollars for a Mexico-based drug trafficking organisation.

Jesus Gonzalez Vazquez of Jalisco, ran the Tienda Mexicana Gonzalez Bros in Portland with brother, and co-defendant, Juan Antonio Romo. The business was an authorised agent for Sigue Corp, Servicio UniTeller and Continental Exchange Solutions/Ria Financial international money transfer services.

According to department of justice (DoJ) prosecutors, the brothers received bulk-cash proceeds from a drug gang’s sales of methamphetamine and heroin. Gonzalez Vazquez and Romo would then wire the money to the gang’s contacts throughout Mexico, structuring the transfers into multiple smaller transactions to avoid detection by the money services businesses or financial regulators.

The brothers laundered at least $19m (€16m) in drug proceeds between January 2015 and October 2019, according to the government’s evidence.

Gonzalez Vazquez’s involvement with the traffickers also included helping with: purchase of weapons in the US to smuggle to Mexico; large drug transactions: the escape of a fugitive to Mexico: obtaining false driver’s licenses for drug dealers; and gang associates’ illegally entry into the US, the DoJ said.

He was arrested in October 2019. He pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit money laundering last March.

“Money launderers who help drug trafficking organisations transfer their illegal proceeds are equally culpable for the path of destruction caused by illegal drugs,” said Scott Erik Asphaug, acting US attorney for Oregon.

“While drug trafficking organisations can quickly replace low-level couriers and dealers when they are arrested by law enforcement, it’s much harder for these organisations to quickly replace savvy, large-volume money launderers …

“Mr Gonzalez Vazquez’s prosecution and lengthy prison sentence will challenge this organisation’s ability to profit from their crimes and sends a strong message that money laundering is a serious crime with significant consequences.” 

Gonzalez Vazquez will be subject to three years’ supervised release after he serves his time behind bars. Judge Michael Simon also ordered he forfeit all seized assets, including body armour, firearms, magazines, several dozen cell phones and more than $250,000.

He is the 20th defendant sentenced in a case which has seen jail terms as high as 19 years seven months. There are 24 other defendants awaiting sentencing and one is pending trial. The gang’s leaders, Samuel Diaz and Faustino Monroy, are believed to be in Mexico.


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