South Florida

Man at center of a billion-dollar gold racket won’t be going anywhere before trial

An ounce of gold currently sells for $1,285.
An ounce of gold currently sells for $1,285. The Miami Herald

A businessman at the center of an alleged multibillion-dollar money-laundering operation involving gold smuggled from South America to Miami will remain in custody until his trial, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

Juan Granda was arrested at his mother’s home in Cutler Bay in mid-March and tried to have his detention order thrown out, but U.S. District Judge Robert Scola declared he was a flight risk and denied his latest bid to be released before trial.

Scola affirmed a magistrate judge’s prior order, noting that the 35-year-old Granda is a dual citizen of the United States and Ecuador who has ties to the South American country and possible access to “large amounts of unaccounted for money” to flee there. Scola also said Granda is accused of bribing foreign officials during his dealings to buy and import gold from Peru and other South American countries, showing his “disrespect for the law.”

Granda, the former director of operations for Miami-based NTR Metals in Peru and Colombia, was charged by indictment along with two other ex-employees, Renato Rodriguez, 42, and Samer Barrage, 39. Rodriguez was released on a $100,000 bond, but Barrage was ordered detained before trial.

All three men are charged with conspiring to commit money laundering by buying and importing $3.6 billion worth of smuggled gold — financed by drug trafficking and other criminal activities — between 2012 and 2015, according to federal complaints.

Prosecutors assert that the three defendants bought the gold from illegal mines in the Amazon rain forest, arranged to ship the precious metal to NTR in Miami, and then its parent company refined and sold the gold on the bullion market. NTR, which is owned by Dallas-based Elemetal LLC, wired payments for the gold purchases to mine operators and front companies, according to the complaints. Narco-traffickers laundered their cocaine profits through the gold-smuggling operation, though none of the three defendants was charged with drug trafficking.

Elemetal, which has not been charged with any crime but is under investigation, issued a news release soon after Granda’s arrest in mid-March, saying it was “cooperating” with the federal government’s gold-smuggling probe and shut down the NTR office in Miami.

The probe, led by the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations, has already taken a toll on the privately held company, which buys, sells and refines gold and other precious metals. Two major exchanges, LBMA and COMEX, dropped Elemetal from their “good delivery” list, meaning the company has been suspended from dealing gold. It has discontinued refining gold as well.

Despite repeated efforts by the Miami Herald, Elemetal’s general counsel, Trey Gum, has not responded.

At Thursday’s detention hearing, Granda’s defense attorney, Daniel Rashbaum, tried to convince the judge that his client deserved a bond because his entire life has always revolved around Miami and his family here — not in Ecuador, where he was born and has an interest in a property. He said Granda, who has a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and an MBA from Kaplan University, lived abroad in recent years because his job with NTR Metals required him to travel constantly throughout South America.

He said Granda, who has assets of between $70,000 and $80,000, would be able to post bail along with help from his mother and friends. “His mother is willing to put up her house,” Rashbaum told the judge.

But federal prosecutor Francisco Maderal prevailed to keep Granda behind bars before trial, noting the breadth of the alleged money-laundering scheme and asserting that he bribed foreign officials and falsified records to help smuggle gold from South America through Miami International Airport.

“His foreign ties are immense,” Maderal said, citing the family property in Ecuador. “His ties to the U.S. are weak,” adding that he is unmarried with no children.

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