A federal judge put a uniquely Miami spin on the $20 million shopping spree of convicted money launderer Álvaro López Tardón before sending the accused Spanish drug kingpin to prison for 150 years on Monday.
“I call it funny money, and we have a plethora of funny money here,” U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard declared, as she described López Tardón's use of cocaine proceeds from Spain to purchase exotic cars and waterfront condos. “Miami is replete with people who utilize illegal funds and live a luxurious, unbelievable lifestyle.”
Before Monday's final sentencing, Lenard had conducted a series of hearings in which she spoke about shadowy characters like López Tardón who hang out in sunny places like South Florida. During those hearings, a federal prosecutor and defense attorneys debated the relative harm that the 39-year-old Spaniard actually did to the community by blowing drug money made in Spain on high-priced cars, condos, jewelry and watches in Miami.
In June, López Tardón was found guilty of a single conspiracy charge that carried up to 20 years in prison and guilty of 13 money-laundering charges that carried up to 10 years each. Under sentencing guidelines, the judge had the authority to craft a prison term that effectively added up to life in prison for the Spaniard.
At a prior hearing in mid-September, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Gonzalez described López Tardón as a bad role model for small-time dope dealers dazzled by the flashy Spaniard and his extravagant lifestyle.
“What do they all have in common? They want to be this defendant,” argued Gonzalez, who asked the judge to give him the 150-year prison term. “In a courthouse full of wannabes, this defendant is the real thing.”
Gonzalez described López Tardón as a violent sociopath who once threatened his estranged wife with a knife to her throat while they were living in their upscale Coconut Grove home. The wife, Sharon Cohen, who met him through an escort service, testified against him at trial.
López Tardón's defense attorney, Richard Klugh, questioned why any dealer would want to trade places with his client, who was facing an effective life sentence.
“That doesn't make any sense,” said Klugh, who along with co-counsel Howard Srebnick sought a sentence of no more than 20 years.
They tried to persuade the judge to consider the typical sentences for major Colombian drug traffickers, which normally run from 20 to 30 years. They argued that López Tardón deserved less time because he did not import any white powder into the United States, nor was he charged with that offense in Miami federal court.
“He didn't sell any cocaine in the United States; he allegedly sold tons in Spain,” Klugh told the judge at the previous hearing in mid-September. “He simply brought his money here, like so many criminals that have propped up South Florida's real estate market for years.”
Klugh also disputed that his client threatened his wife with a knife, saying the “monster image does not pan out.”
“Something less than 20 years would be fair,” Srebnick told the judge. “Something beyond that would be exaggerated in our view.”
On Monday, the judge strongly disagreed, saying that she gave the defendant a harsh sentence to send a message of deterrence, among other reasons. When she announced the judgment, Lenard said “1,800 months,” which translates to 150 years. She also imposed a $2 million fine and allowed the U.S. government to take $14.4 million worth of ill-gotten property from López Tardón.
López Tardón, a Santeria worshiper, lived off and on in Miami from 2001 to 2011. He resided in the Coconut Grove home with his wife and in a penthouse suite at South Beach's Continuum before his arrest by FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents in July 2011.
Before his arrest, López Tardón went on a wild spending spree. He snapped up 13 high-priced condos, including the $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 after two co-defendants had pleaded guilty. His brother, Artemio López Tardón, charged along with him, could not make the Miami trial because he was being held on drug-trafficking charges in Spain with dozens of other Spanish defendants.
At trial, the prosecutor called López Tardón's buying frenzy “mind-boggling” and pointed 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, Gonzalez argued.
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.