A federal jury Wednesday convicted reputed Spanish drug kingpin Álvaro López Tardón of money-laundering, finding him guilty of cleaning more than $20 million in cocaine profits in Spain through Miami’s luxury condominium and car markets.
López Tardón, who appeared stoic as the verdicts were read in Miami federal court, was found guilty of a single conspiracy charge that carries up to 20 years in prison and guilty of 13 money-laundering charges that carry up to 10 years each.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard scheduled his sentencing for Aug. 19.
The drama leading up to Wednesday’s conviction was heightened late Tuesday, when the 12 jurors said in a note that they had reached unanimous verdicts on some counts but were “divided” on others. The judge ordered them to continue deliberations, which began Friday after a six-week trial.
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Once the jurors found López Tardón guilty, they gave the U.S. government permission to seize all of his assets acquired in Miami.
Before his arrest in 2011, López Tardón, 39, went on a wild spending spree. He snapped up 13 high-priced condos, including a $1 million-plus penthouse at the Continuum in South Beach, and 17 luxury cars, including a 2008 black Bugatti Veyron for $1.2 million and a 2003 black Ferrari Enzo for almost $1 million. That’s excluding Florida sales taxes.
López Tardón, accused of being the boss of a Spanish cocaine ring dubbed “Los Miami,” was a lone defendant standing trial. His brother, Artemio López Tardón, charged along with him, could not make the Miami trial because he is being held on drug-trafficking charges in Spain with dozens of other Spanish defendants.
“If you want to follow the little drug dealer, you follow the drugs,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Gonzalez told jurors during closing arguments last week. “If you want to follow the big drug dealer, you follow the money.”
“He’s a really, really big drug dealer who made the mistake of moving his money into the United States,” Gonzalez said, calling López Tardón’s buying frenzy “mind-boggling” and pointing out that he spent about $1 million on fancy Audemars Piguet wristwatches alone.
To hide his role in the real estate transactions, López Tardón’s cash deals were carried out under the name of a shell company or straw buyer, including 11 purchases at The Mark on Brickell Bay Drive and One Miami on South Biscayne Boulevard, argued Gonzalez, who worked on the prosecution with Cristina Maxwell.
López Tardón’s defense attorney, Howard Srebnick, countered that the millions his client spent in Miami came from a family-owned exotic car dealership and an epicurean shop in Madrid — not from drug trafficking.
“The government is saying, ‘Look at all the cash, look at all the watches. He must be a drug dealer,’ ” Srebnick told jurors. “Well, let’s do the math.”
He called the family’s dealership and shop “legitimate businesses” that generated more than $20 million in revenue, citing Spanish government tax records.
Srebnick also told jurors that his client disclosed dozens of wire transfers from Spain to Miami, arguing that he was not trying to hide anything illicit from the U.S. government. “It was not a scheme to conceal,” said Srebnick, who worked on the defense with attorney Richard Klugh.
López Tardón lived off and on in Miami from 2001 to 2011. He resided in the penthouse suite at South Beach’s Continuum before his arrest by FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents in July 2011. Deemed a flight risk, he has been detained ever since in another high-rise building, the Miami Federal Detention Center, a few blocks from his former waterfront playground.
His alleged drug-trafficking empire began to crumble soon after his Santeria priest, Vincente Orlando Cardelle, got caught smuggling some of his cash through Miami International Airport earlier in 2011.
A one-time partner, David William Pollack, would later admit to hiding cocaine inside Peruvian pepper crates bound for López Tardón’s organization in Spain. Pollack was a key witness for the prosecution because his testimony established that López Tardón was involved in drug trafficking, which had to be proven as a basis for the money-laundering offense.
Also, a former girlfriend, Fabiani Krentz, acknowledged investing his drug profits in Miami’s soaring condominium market.
In 2012, all three pleaded guilty to federal charges in the investigation led by the FBI and IRS.
Another important witness for the prosecution was López Tardón’s separated wife, Sharon Cohen, who had worked for a Miami escort service when she met him in 2006. Cohen testified that he told her his phones were being tapped and that he was expecting to receive millions of dollars worth of euros from Spain.