CUBA

Company denies laundering money sent to Cuba

 

Caribbean Transfers says it only handled family remittances to the island.

jtamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

A company whose owner stands accused of laundering and sending to Cuba $30 million on behalf of Medicare fraudsters in South Florida says it did nothing wrong and blames a remittance company in Miami and a check cashing store in Naples.

“Caribbean Transfers has not committed any crimes in the United States,” the company said in a statement posted Thursday on its Web site following a string of recent reports about its owner, Jorge Emilio Pérez de Morales.

A U.S. fugitive from charges of money laundering, Perez has been living in Havana and has business links with a well known Cuban actor, Jorge Perugorria, according to reports in the blogs Diario de Cuba and Cuba Al Descubierto.

The company statement said it has been “working intensely on the documentation that proves this allegation is totally false,” but made no mention of Perez or his whereabouts.

U.S. prosecutors have described Caribbean Transfers as a sort of offshore “Western Union.” The company, which closed its doors in 2012, claimed it specialized in remittances to Cuba, the Dominican Republic and other countries.

Perez was charged in 2012 with financing a money-laundering scheme that moved more than $30 million in stolen Medicare proceeds from South Florida through Canada and into Cuba's banking system. Oscar L. Sanchez, the owner of a Naples check cashing business, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison.

Caribbean Transfers said it did not violate U.S. laws because its bank accounts outside the United States simply received family remittances sent by a company in Miami, fully licensed by the U.S. government. The money was then paid to the Cuban families.

Any crimes, it argued, were committed by the Miami remittance company, the Naples check cashing store and Miami banks that handled the U.S. government payments to more than 70 Medicare fraudsters in South Florida.

“How was Caribbean Transfers supposed to know that those funds were illegal?” the statement said, adding that the company “trusted that the U.S. banks were perfectly regulated, knew their customers perfectly and were incapable of sending fraudulent money out of their jurisdiction?”

Caribbean Transfers did not identify the Miami remittance company but sources said it was La Bamba, which also cashed checks. Owner Juan Rene Caro is serving an 18-year prison sentence for filing $132 million in false currency transaction reports.

Lawyers generally recommend not commenting on news media reports on a case, “especially it’s a yellow press with clearly politicized biases such as The Miami Herald and bloggers,” The statement added,

“Despite that, we have decided to make some truths public, confident that this will help many people to find the answers to the obvious questions that these newspapers hide,” it added.

The statement, which was not signed, went on to argue that the U.S. embargo was to blame “for what happened” because the U.S. sanctions forbid the direct transfer of money from U.S. to Cuban entities.

Court records in the Oscar Sanchez case show the Cuban-born U.S. citizen was indicted for his role in laundering the profits of 70 South Florida medical companies that falsely billed Medicare for $374.4 million and were paid $70.7 million.

Perez financed the Sanchez scheme and then funneled the money through shell companies that controlled bank accounts in Canada and Trinidad, according to the records. The company also operated in the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

Caribbean Transfers wanted to move millions of dollars to Cuba. But, facing the U.S. restrictions on remittances to Cuba, the company bought more than 20 boxes of money orders and transferred the money in amounts less than $10,000 at a time to avoid having to declare the source of the funds under U.S. laws.

The company also used aliases in the money orders, according to the court records, including the name “Bill Clinton.”

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