Miami’s Seybold building is a famous jewelry marketplace that attracts customers from across the globe.
But investigators say it was also home to a crew of money launderers who are illegally smuggling in gold from Argentina — sometimes disguised as buttons on jackets.
Three people were arrested this week, two of them at the Seybold building, as part of a long-term money-laundering investigation run by state and federal investigators.
Eduardo Farach, 48, and Luis Morel, 52, were jailed and charged with a slew of money-laundering related crimes. Farach’s girlfriend, Tina Longas, was also arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.
The two men made their first appearances in Miami-Dade criminal court on Wednesday. It was not clear if either of the men had retained attorneys on Wednesday.
South Florida authorities have increasingly focused on Miami’s gold trade, focusing on how U.S. gold refineries were buying illegally mined gold from Latin America that enriched narcotics traffickers and devastated the rain forest.
The trade was chronicled in the Miami Herald’s Dirty Gold series.
The latest investigation was done by the South Florida Financial Crimes Strike Force, which is headed by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office and works with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, or HSI.
According to arrest reports, investigators zeroed in on a courier who had been making suspicious trips to the Seybold building, 36 NE 1st St., and then to banks to deposit large sums of cash. When confronted, the courier admitted he’d been meeting with people who were hired to travel from Argentina with gold hidden on them.
It’s common for gold to be smuggled into the United States so that illegal mines and refiners can avoid taxes and reporting their activities to federal authorities, according to police.
The courier admitted that for more than a year, he had taken gold from the airline travelers, then delivered it to Farach, who worked out of a shop at the Seybold building. Farach would pay the courier with cash; it’s not unusual for jewelers to use precious metals to help launder drug cash in Miami.
The courier would then deposit it in banks, or give it to other shady businesses or people, according to the arrest report. The money was presumably transmitted back to South America.
Working with police, the courier set up a sting. He met with Morel, one of the airline travelers who had just arrived from Argentina. Investigators believe Morel smuggled in gold from Argentina hidden as large buttons on his clothes, according to an arrest report.
Then on Monday night, task-force detectives and agents raided Farach’s store, which was technically owned by his girlfriend, Longas, who was also arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. She has a previous federal conviction for operating an illegal business related to money laundering.