Three Jamaicans among 19 indicted by US in drug money laundering case

TWO of three Jamaicans named by American law enforcers in a Colombia-based drug money laundering organisation were arrested Tuesday morning after a five-year investigation, the US Department of Justice said in a news release.

According to the US authorities, the men were arrested in Jamaica at the request of the American Government and are among 19 individuals indicted in Boston, Massachusetts, “in connection with their alleged involvement in a sophisticated international money laundering organisation that laundered more than US$6 million in drug trafficking proceeds from Colombian cartels through the United States, Caribbean, and European banking systems”.

The third Jamaican remains at large on the island, the US Justice Department said.

According to the American law enforcers, US$1 million was seized from corporate bank accounts and other investigative activity. Nearly 3,000 kilograms of cocaine, with a street value of more than US$90 million, has allegedly been traced back to the money laundering organisation.

“This includes approximately 1,193 kilograms of cocaine seized at sea, 60 miles south of Jamaica, in July 2019, as well as 1,555 kilograms of cocaine seized in nine scrap metal shipping containers at the Port of Buenaventura, Colombia, in March 2019,” the Justice Department said.

The Americans said that on April 26, 2022, 12 individuals were arrested in Colombia by local authorities at the request of the US and one defendant was arrested in Orlando, Florida.

On Monday morning three individuals were arrested in Florida and will make an initial appearance in federal court in the Southern District of Florida at a later date.

“The United States will seek the extradition of the Colombian and Jamaican defendants to the District of Massachusetts,” the US law enforcers said.

According to the Americans, the investigation began “in or about October 2016”. They said the organisation, located primarily in Barranquilla, Colombia, laundered more than US$6 million in drug proceeds through intermediary banks in the United States, including banks in Massachusetts, as well as additional proceeds through banks in the Caribbean and Europe by use of the Colombian Black Market Peso Exchange (BMPE).

“It is alleged that, by using the BMPE, the defendants conspired to conceal drug trafficking activity and proceeds from law enforcement as well as evade currency exchange requirements in the United States and Colombia through the illegal currency exchange process. As part of the conspiracy, the defendants allegedly held roles and responsibilities within the money laundering organisation relative to the needs and opportunities of the scheme such as drug suppliers, peso brokers, money couriers and business owners/dollar purchasers,” the Justice Department said in charging documents.

According to the charging documents, “through the BMPE Colombian drug trafficking organisations, with drug proceeds generated in the United States, use third parties — generally referred to as ‘peso brokers’ that are also based in Colombia — who agree to exchange Colombian pesos they control for the drug supplier’s dollar proceeds.

“Peso brokers then use money couriers in the United States and elsewhere to physically secure the drug proceeds, often in suitcases or bags on the street, and transfer the proceeds into the US banking system. To avoid detection, peso brokers deposit the drug proceeds into bank accounts in company or individual names intended to appear as legitimate business activity, or through multiple small deposits into different bank accounts which are then consolidated into larger accounts.

The US law enforcers said the charges of money laundering conspiracy and laundering of monetary instruments each provide for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to US$500,000 or twice the amount involved, whichever is greater.

The law enforcers also pointed out that the details contained in the charging documents are allegations and the defendants are presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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