A Chinese national pleaded guilty, and another was sentenced to seven years in prison for a global money laundering scheme that laundered tens of millions of dollars on behalf of drug-trafficking organizations, including Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman's Sinaloa cartel.
Xizhi Li pleaded guilty on Monday for playing a “leadership role” in a “years-long conspiracy to use a foreign casino, foreign and domestic front companies, foreign and domestic bank accounts, false passports, and other false identification documents to launder money on behalf of transnational drug-trafficking organizations, whose main drug-trafficking activities involved cocaine,” DOJ said.
Li was born in China, but prosecutors said he primarily resided in Mexico and Guatemala as he carried out his scheme, which included forging “close ties” with drug traffickers in Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, and elsewhere, and as he used aliases such as “Francisco Ley Tan” to obtain bank accounts in Miami and to purchase a casino in Guatemala, which he used to further his schemes. Li pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money and will be sentenced in October, facing a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $10-million forfeiture money judgment.
A statement of facts signed both by the Justice Department and by Li and his lawyer last month stated that Li used bank accounts in the United States, China, Mexico, and elsewhere to launder drug profits. Li said he used encrypted platforms such as WhatsApp and China’s WeChat to pull off his scheme.
The Washington Examiner reported last month on how Chinese money launderers and fentanyl-makers have gone into business with Mexican cartels, teaming up to make billions of dollars a year trafficking the opioid that has killed thousands of people in the U.S.
Tao Liu of Hong Kong, who DOJ said “helped to execute” the cocaine money laundering scheme, pleaded guilty in April for this and a separate bribery charge and was sentenced to seven years behind bars on Tuesday. The Justice Department said Liu “accepted bulk drug cash” on behalf of Li. Liu was also “the target of a months-long undercover investigation during which he attempted to bribe what he believed was a corrupt U.S. Department of State official to obtain U.S. passports for individuals, including Liu himself” for $150,000 each. DOJ noted the allegedly corrupt official was actually an undercover DEA agent.
“Global money-laundering networks enable drug cartels to profit from their deadly trade, and yesterday’s guilty plea and today’s sentence underscore the Justice Department’s commitment to dismantling the financial infrastructure of transnational criminal organizations to take the profit out of crime," Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. of DOJ’s Criminal Division said on Tuesday.
A seizure application from the DEA reportedly shows investigators telling the court that a local drug gang investigation led them to conclude that Memphis-area cocaine was being supplied by the Sinaloa cartel, with Li leading the money laundering scheme. Court records also reportedly show investigators telling a judge that some of Li’s money laundering was conducted on behalf of a Central American cartel led by Marisela “Iron Lady” Flores-Torruco, who in turn was a cocaine distributor for El Chapo. Prosecutors reportedly told the court that Li helped launder the profits from the Sinaloa Cartel’s Tennessee cocaine sales, and investigators also concluded that some of Liu’s drug money laundering activities were done on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Co-conspirators Jiayu Chen, Jingyuan Li, and Eric Yong Woo have all pleaded guilty too. Jianxing Chen of Belize was charged in a superseding indictment for the money-laundering and drug-trafficking conspiracy, and he is awaiting extradition after being arrested in Peru.
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Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy