OAKLAND, CA. – The United States Attorney’s Office has filed federal criminal complaints charging money service business employees Griselda Cancelada Liceaga, Veronica Mora and Yoselin Perez Ramirez with conspiracy to commit money laundering and identity theft as part of a program to facilitate wire transfers for drug traffickers sending drug proceeds to their sources of supply in Mexico. The owner of money-services business Rincon Musical, Felipe de Jesus Ornelas Mora, has been charged with conspiracy to launder money, in a separate complaint, for his part in the scheme. The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Special Agent in Charge Mark H. Pearson, and Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Bob P. Beris. The defendants were arrested on Wednesday, August 31, 2022, and made their first appearances in federal court the next morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna M. Ryu.
According to the criminal complaints, Ornelas, 49, was the owner of Oakland-based money transmitter Rincon Musical where Liceaga, 39; Mora, 26; and Ramirez, 24, worked as cashiers. All defendants are residents of Oakland. Liceaga eventually opened her own money transfer business – America Latina – in Oakland. When providing money transfer services, the Defendants acted as local agents of business money service businesses that maintained policies and required training to ensure compliance with national laws and regulations on money transfer. against money laundering. Corporate anti-money laundering policies as well as federal laws and regulations require money services businesses to prevent their services from being used to support money laundering. Complaint alleges defendants attended annual trainings and were aware of applicable laws and policies and, nonetheless, charged unrecorded transaction “fees” to drug traffickers for assisting traffickers in laundering drug proceeds from the United States to Mexico.
The complaints describe several methods allegedly used by the defendants to launder drug proceeds. For example, the defendants allegedly used identity cards and personal information of legitimate customers to make wire transfers on behalf of people other than those of the drug traffickers. Additionally, the defendants allegedly structured large amounts of money into small wire transfers to avoid raising suspicions that the wire transfers were drug proceeds. The complaints describe how a former narcotics dealer working under the supervision of law enforcement officers brought $20,000 in cash to Rincon Musical for wiring them to people in Mexico. Two of the defendants split the money into multiple transactions of less than $3,000, amounts small enough to avoid being flagged for suspicious activity. The complaint also alleges that the defendants did not ask customers to explain the origin of the large sums of money they agreed to wire as the defendants had been trained to do and did not record the charges. “additional” transaction fees they charged to help process suspicious transactions. All of this, according to the complaint, the defendants did to help drug traffickers who sent wire transfers without using their real names, showing identification or having their transactions reviewed by money services businesses. company that provide wire transfer services.
The criminal complaints detail the IRS and DEA investigation that led to the arrest and indictment of the defendants. According to the complaints, law enforcement arrested two drug traffickers – one in December 2020 and the other around June 2021 – who both admitted to sending the drug proceeds to their drug suppliers in Mexico at Rincon Musical. The complaints describe drug traffickers’ statements, cellphone communications and transaction receipts found on their phones to demonstrate how they allegedly used money transfer services to pay drug suppliers in Mexico. Additionally, the complaints describe multiple covert operations that investigators used to determine how the defendants allegedly circumvented anti-money laundering rules and used the personal information of legitimate customers to satisfy identification requirements on material suspicious transactions.
In sum, the criminal complaints charge Ornelas, Liceaga, Mora and Ramirez with conspiracy to commit money laundering, contrary to 18 USC § 1956(h). Liceaga, Mora and Ramirez are also charged with impersonation, contrary to 18 USC § 1028(a)(7). If found guilty, the defendants face a maximum legal sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $500,000 (or double the gain from the crime). However, any sentencing after conviction would only be imposed by the court after review of the US Sentencing Guidelines and the federal law governing sentencing, 18 USC § 3553.
Defendants Ornelas, Liceaga and Mora are next scheduled to appear on September 6, 2022 before Magistrate Judge Donna M. Ryu for arraignment, identification of counsel and other status of release conditions.
Defendant Yoselin Perez Ramirez is scheduled to appear on September 2, 2022 before Magistrate Donna M. Ryu for initial appearance and identification of counsel.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Pastor is pursuing the case with the help of Amanda Martinez and Andy Ding.
This case is the result of an investigation by IRS-Criminal Investigations and the DEA with assistance from the Oakland Police Department. This lawsuit is part of an investigation by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OECDTF). The OECDTF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles high-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States, using a prosecutor-led, multi-agency approach focused on intelligence, which leverages the forces of federal authorities, state and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.