Select Page

A 30-year-old Wells Fargo personal banker pleaded guilty on Thursday to knowingly opening bank accounts for people working with the Sinaloa cartel for money laundering purposes. 

Seized money from the Sinaloa cartel, September 18, 2008. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Luis Figueroa of Tijuana admitted to the scheme which spanned the United States, according to Business Insider

Between 2014 and 2016, money laundering organizations recruited people who would open bank accounts for the cartel's drug money, according to the US Attorney's Office in the Southern District of California. The operation laundered over $19 million dollars in narcotics proceeds.

The drug money would be deposited into the bank accounts, also known as "funnel accounts," in amounts below the threshold for regulatory reporting. -Business Insider

Drug money would be picked up by cash couriers - often stuffed into "shopping bags, duffel bags or shoeboxes," after which it would be deposited at Wells Fargo and other banks, according to a DOJ press release. Couriers traveled to Los Angeles, Chicago, Charlotte, Boston, New Jersey, and New York City to pick up drug money into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, picking up the money in private residences or public places such as parking lots or retail stores. 

The couriers would deposit the bulk cash in $22,000 - $45,000 increments at various banks used for laundering, including Wells Fargo, after which funds were transferred into Mexico-based shell corporations operated by the launderers - which would then be transferred to the Sinaloa Cartel. 

Figueroa, who was arrested in November in the joint FBI-IRS investigation, personally made several wire transfers from funnel accounts knowing that he was dealing with drug money. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. 

Eight other people were arrested and charged in the scheme. 

"We can't allow our banks to be laundromats for cartel cash," said US Attorney Robert Brewer. "Bank employees who launder drug money for traffickers will face prosecution and prison."

The Sinaloa cartel is one of the largest drug trafficking groups in the world. Based in the West Coast of Mexico, the first lab believed to have produced fentanyl was found at a home in Sinaloa's state capital.