Monday, June 17, 2024

US Treasury sanctions Sinaloa Cartel members for cellphone money laundering scheme

The operators of a scheme in which the proceeds of illicit fentanyl sales are used to buy cellphones in the United States to supply a chain of stores in Mexico are among 15 Sinaloa Cartel members sanctioned by the Biden administration on Friday, U.S. authorities said.

Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Wally Adeyemo announced the sanctions against 15 alleged cartel members and six Mexico-based businesses in Phoenix, Arizona, where he declared that the “Biden Administration will continue to use every tool at our disposal to target the violent drug cartels that profit from deadly fentanyl sales in our country.”

The U.S. Department of the Treasury said in a statement that its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) had sanctioned Mexico-based cellphone business Smart Depot and “several related actors, including brothers, Arturo D’Artagnan Marín Gonzalez and Porthos Marín Gonzalez.”

The Marín brothers and others are responsible for operating a “Black Market Peso Exchange (BMPE) scheme” for the Sinaloa Cartel, Treasury said.

“In coordination with Sinaloa Cartel fentanyl suppliers, the Marín brothers brokered fentanyl sales in the United States and used the proceeds of the illicit sales — which were in bulk U.S. dollars — to purchase cellphones from U.S. companies,” the statement said.

“After the phones were transported to Mexico, they were sold in Smart Depot stores located in Culiacán, Sinaloa; Mazatlán, Sinaloa; and Cancún, Quintana Roo — for Mexican pesos. As Smart Depot thrived and expanded, the Sinaloa Cartel traffickers received their illicit proceeds in their national currency,” the Treasury said.

Samsung cellphones
A 2020 photo shared on social media shows Samsung phones for sale at a Smart Depot store in Culiacán, Sinaloa. (Foursquare)

Among the other alleged Sinaloa Cartel members sanctioned on Friday are “fentanyl suppliers” Rolando Verduzco Castro and Jesús Manuel León Valdez, “who utilized the BMPE scheme run by the Marin brothers to launder their drug proceeds,” according to the U.S. authorities.

Léon “was previously an enforcer for Joaquin Guzman Loera (“El Chapo”)” and “now operates at the direction of Los Chapitos,” the Treasury said, referring to a Sinaloa Cartel cell controlled by sons of “El Chapo,” who is in prison in the United States.

“Based in Las Trancas, Tamazula, Durango, Jesús León oversees clandestine drug labs, producing both methamphetamine and fentanyl,” the statement added.

Four businesses established “using illicit drug proceeds and Smart Depot profits” were also sanctioned by OFAC.

Brothers Porthos and Arturo D'Artagnon Marín
Brothers Porthos and Arturo D’Artagnon allegedly launder money through a chain of cellphones stores call Smart Depot. (U.S. Treasury)

Sinaloa Cartel members affiliated with top cartel leader Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada García, and who also participated in the Marín brother’s BMPE scheme were also sanctioned on Friday, the Treasury said.

In addition, Jorge Alejandro García Velazco, identified as “a San Luis Río Colorado, Sonora-based associate of the Marin brothers” as well as his spouse, Mayra Gisel González Cordero, and his cellphone business, Celulandia, were also sanctioned.

“Similar to the Marín brothers, Jorge Garcia operates a BMPE scheme to launder drug proceeds for the Sinaloa Cartel. Assisted by Mayra González, Jorge García’s scheme involves Celulandia, which has two locations in San Luis Río Colorado,” Treasury said.

A chart showing all the sanctioned individuals and businesses can be viewed here. Treasury said that “several” of those designated on Friday are fugitives.

As a result of the sanctions imposed, “all property and interests in property of the designated persons that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC,” said the Department of the Treasury, which has sanctioned numerous other alleged members of Mexican cartels in recent times

“… Today’s action is part of a whole-of-government effort to counter the global threat posed by the trafficking of illicit drugs into the United States that is causing over 110,000 deaths of Americans annually, as well as countless more non-fatal overdoses and poisonings,” the department said.

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