Miami-Dade County

Bank denies report that Maduro aide was sent drug money

A Panama financial institution is denying a Miami Herald report on Sunday that the man who is now special assistant to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was sent hundreds of thousands in drug money from a troubled Florida police undercover task force.

Banesco Panama CEO and General Manager Carlos Alberto Escotet said William Amaro Sanchez, a trusted adviser to the president, was not a customer of the bank in Panama.

“Banesco Panama denies vehemently the veracity of the information published by The Herald and disseminated by others, related to William Amaro Alexander Sanchez, secretary of the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, who is not a client and has not been a client of the Bank,” Escotet said in a statement.

The bank, which started in Venezuela, said it was not contacted by the Herald prior to publication.

Confidential records obtained by the Herald show that Amaro was among 20 people from Venezuela who were sent money from the Tri-County Task force after the officers collected millions in drug cash during a sting operation in 2010 and 2011. Amaro did not respond to requests for an interview.

Prior to publication, three Banesco employees confirmed that William Amaro Sanchez’s name was on the account — the same account where the drug money was wired in 2010 in multiple payments totaling more than $200,000. As of three weeks ago, the employees said the account was still active, with one bank worker even reviewing a Banesco form that included the account number, Amaro’s name and his government ID number.

During the undercover sting, the police — posing as money launderers — sent the funds to Amaro and others at the direction of money brokers working for criminal organizations at a time when Venezuela was emerging as one of the top trans-shipment hubs for cocaine in the Americas, records reviewed by the Herald show.

After taking millions in fees for laundering the money, police did not make any arrests, nor did they consult with the Justice Department about the drug money they were sending overseas.

The Herald reported on Sunday that some of the largest amounts of drug cash were sent to Banesco customers — scores of payments — including Fabian Cedeno, who was arrested in Miami years earlier when he tried to smuggle undeclared cash through airport customs in 2007.

Banesco officials would not comment on the money sent to Cedeno or his brother, Jonathan, totaling $2.5 million. At least 49 times, the cops wired drug money into their accounts after pickups in New York and other cities, records show.

Banesco said in a news release that it reviewed the time frame for other bank wires reported in the Herald. “We notified at the appropriate time the regulatory authorities about suspicious transactions and we proceeded to close the accounts we considered pertinent, rigorously applying the regulations,” the release stated.

“Any account that is open at our institution and shows any evidence of noncompliance with regulations is closed and/or duly reported to the regulatory authorities for investigation. We have adhered to this practice at all times,” the release said.

Panama is considered by the U.S. State Department to be a country of “primary concern,” its most severe designation for nations that do not adhere to strict standards for guarding against money laundering in banks and other institutions.

The task force, which laundered at least $71.5 million for criminal groups before the unit was disbanded in late 2012, sent more money into Panama than any other country.

Prompted by a Herald investigation, License to Launder, the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago and the Internal Revenue Service are now conducting a widening criminal probe of the unit. During the three years the task force operated, the Herald found that it kept at least $2.4 million in fees, and returned the rest to the same criminal groups selling drugs in U.S. cities.

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