COLUMBUS, Ohio – The final two of eight defendants in a $44 million money-laundering case were convicted today when they pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court. Another co-conspirator was sentenced today in federal court as well. Local and federal law enforcement, working in conjunction, spent years investigating large-scale narcotics traffickers in an effort that ultimately brought down the money-laundering ring.
According to court documents, beginning around 2013 and continuing until September 2019, the defendants conspired to distribute heroin, fentanyl and marijuana and commit large-scale money laundering.
The schemes relied on the use of small businesses that held themselves out as cell phone stores. The stores sold few, if any, cell phones, and they conducted little, if any, legitimate business otherwise. Rather, the stores were merely front businesses for drug traffickers to send large amounts of money related to their drug trafficking from Columbus to Mexico.
Jose Luis Rosales-Ocampo, 57, of Columbus, and his family members ran the so-called cell phone stores: Los Rosales on Shady Lane Road, Los Rosales 2 on East Main Street and Express Cellular on Eastland Square Drive.
The storefronts principally served as a place for individuals to wire illicit drug proceeds to Mexico. Thousands of illicit wire transfers were completed per year. Drug dealers from multiple narcotics-trafficking cells would drop large amounts of narcotics money at the stores, after which the store owners would falsify money sender names, addresses and phone numbers on the wire transfers to Mexico in order to conceal the nature of the proceeds.
In total, the joint state–federal efforts led to the prosecution of eight defendants federally and 35 defendants by the office of Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien. The investigation and prosecution of these defendants removed approximately 34 kilograms of heroin, 516 grams of cocaine, 76 grams of fentanyl and 250 pounds of marijuana from Central Ohio streets. Additionally, investigators seized $458,500 in U.S. currency as part of the investigation and prosecution of these cases.
“The agents and officers on these cases dedicated thousands of hours of good investigative work to expose a massive money-laundering scheme that was benefiting drug lords in Mexico,” U.S. Attorney David M. DeVillers said. “Thanks to our law enforcement partners, at least 40 defendants are no longer doing business in Central Ohio and a significant amount of illegal drugs have been removed from our community.”
One of the lead drug distributors, Julio Angel Homer Gonzalez, 43, was sentenced today to 10 years in prison.
Eliezar Mendoza-Nava, 36, and Rodrigo Esqueda-Vazquez, 33, each pleaded guilty today.
“IRS Criminal Investigation followed the money and discovered that the cell phone stores were operating primarily for the purpose of laundering drug proceeds,” said Bryant Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Cincinnati Field Office. “IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to dismantle and disrupt money laundering organizations.”
Five of the other five defendants – Jose Rosales-Ocampo, Thania Rosales-Guadarrama, Josue Gama-Perez, Dulce Rosales-Guadarrama and Rodolfo Franco-Valdez – also previously pleaded guilty and currently await sentencing.
Congress sets the maximum statutory sentence. Sentencing defendants is determined by the Court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.
David M. DeVillers, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio; Bryant Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, Cincinnati Field Office; Keith Martin, Special Agent in Charge, DEA Detroit Division; Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien; Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan and officials with the Ohio HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s Ohio Organized Crime Commission announced the plea agreements and sentences imposed today by U.S. District Court Judge Algenon L. Marbley.
Assistant United States Attorneys S. Courter Shimeall, Jessica W. Knight and Special Assistant United States Attorney Daniel J. Stanley from Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien’s office are representing the United States in this case.