Federal agents have arrested two South Florida men for allegedly conspiring to help drug traffickers launder profits from narcotics sales through bank accounts used to pay wages to undocumented immigrants, according to Miami federal court records.
The suspects, identified in court papers as Pavel Sosa Medina, 46, and Amado Vazquez, Jr., 42, were arrested as a result of a sting operation in which undercover IRS agents posed as drug traffickers seeking to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars ostensibly from drug sales.
IRS criminal investigation (IRS-CI) said in a brief statement: “IRS-CI has no comment at this time.”
It is not the first time that money launders have used money reserved to pay undocumented workers to launder drug profits. In 2013, investigators discovered that two Mexican businessmen laundered drug profits through a Miami-Dade check-cashing company that used the money to cash the payroll checks of undocumented workers at area supermarkets.
Federal officials have recently launched a nationwide effort to crack down on money laundering. About 1,000 law enforcement officials fanned out across the fashion district in Los Angeles recently to raid various businesses suspected of using black market schemes to launder proceeds for international drug cartels.
The latest case in Miami is outlined in a criminal complaint filed in federal court by a special agent from the Internal Revenue Service.
According to the complaint, the case began to unfold on Jan. 16 when an IRS undercover agent met Vazquez at his Miami residence. The undercover agent posed as a money launderer for California-based Mexican drug dealers, saying he regularly handled proceeds from cocaine sales in the United States.
The agent also told Vazquez that he needed help moving between $15,000 and $20,000 cash per day.
Vazquez then told the undercover agent that he was more than willing to help because his business was already involved in illegal activity, the complaint said.
“Vazquez told UCA that he owned a construction company and used that company to cash between one-hundred and three-hundred thousand dollars in checks and that Vazquez used this cash to pay undocumented workers,” the complaint said.
Then Vazquez proceeded to outline to the undercover officer, identified in the complaint as UCA, a possible strategy to begin the cash laundering operation.
“Vazquez further told UCA that to facilitate the laundering of UCA’s money, UCA should open business bank accounts at Bank of America,” the complaint said. “Vazquez advised UCA that Vazquez would deposit construction company checks into that account for the amount to be laundered.”
Vazquez and the undercover agent struck a deal. Vazquez would get a 15 percent fee.
According to the complaint, Vazquez also revealed that he owned a trucking company with a refrigerated truck that could be used to transport bulk currency or drugs between Florida and California.
“Vazquez advised that he had used the refrigerated truck to transport marijuana from California to Florida,” the complaint said. “The driver of the truck would even have a female dog in heat with him, in order to throw off any drug sniffing dog if stopped.”
Soon after this meeting, Vazquez began making a series of transactions with the undercover agent who posed as a drug dealer. The agent would give Vazquez money, usually tens of thousands of dollars. Then Vazquez would turn over the money to an alleged business partner, Sosa Medina, who handled transactions.
After Vazquez was arrested on Aug. 21, he told investigators that he was involved in money laundering, according to the complaint.
“Vazquez explained that when he received the cash from the people looking to wash money, Vazquez provided this money to Sosa Medina,” the complaint says. “Vazquez stated that Medina handled the financial transactions back to the people who provided the cash.”
Later, under the supervision of the agents, Vazquez called Sosa Medina and claimed he had $400,000 to launder. Sosa Medina said he would come by Vazquez’s home later in the day.
On the evening of Aug. 21, Sosa Medina drove up to Vazquez’s residence in a luxury Mercedes S550 sedan, the complaint says.
After agents detained Sosa Medina, they searched his vehicle.
“Inside Medina’s vehicle, law enforcement found approximately twenty to thirty thousand dollars in cash, several checkbooks, three cell phones, and a binder with a large amount of blank checks from FR Construction company,” the complaint says.
The attorneys for Sosa Medina could not be reached for comment, but Vazquez’s lawyer promised to send a comment via e-mail but did not.
Both Sosa Medina and Vazquez have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.