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24 people charged in money laundering scheme involving Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, prosecutors say

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24 people charged in money laundering scheme involving Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, prosecutors say
News

News

24 people charged in money laundering scheme involving Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, prosecutors say

2024-06-19 04:59 Last Updated At:05:00

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A five-year investigation by U.S. officials has uncovered a complex partnership between one of Mexico’s most notorious drug cartels and Chinese underground banking groups in the U.S. that laundered money from the sale of fentanyl, cocaine and other drugs, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

Associates of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel conspired with the Chinese groups to cover up more than $50 million in drug profits, much of which was processed in the Los Angeles area, the prosecutors said in a news release.

Two dozen people have been charged. Chinese and Mexican law enforcement helped arrest fugitives who fled the United States after they were initially charged last year.

“This investigation shows that the Sinaloa Cartel has entered into a new criminal partnership with Chinese nationals who launder money for the cartels,” Drug Enforcement Administration official Anne Milgram said at a news conference.

The lead defendant is Edgar Joel Martinez-Reyes, 45, of East Los Angeles, who prosecutors said had managed couriers who picked up drug cash in the Los Angeles area. Martinez-Reyes partnered with the leader of the Chinese money launderers, and traveled with him to Mexico to negotiate contracts with the cartel, authorities said.

Martinez-Reyes' attorney did not immediately respond to an email and call seeking comment.

Prosecutors said the scheme relied on the huge demand for U.S. currency from wealthy Chinese nationals, who are prohibited by their government's capital flight restrictions from transferring more than $50,000 per year out of China.

According to the authorities, a person in China would move money into the seller's Chinese bank account and receive the dollar equivalent in the U.S. for use in purchasing real estate, luxury items, and paying tuition. They said cryptocurrency transactions were also used to move the drug money, adding the funds in China are used to buy such goods such as chemicals for making fentanyl and methamphetamine that are then sent to the drug cartels in Mexico.

The Chinese money brokers charged a much smaller percentage commission fee than traditional money launderers and provided overall cheaper methods than previous ways of moving money, such as smuggling truckloads of cash across the U.S.-Mexico border or going through banks and businesses, according to the officials.

“When I talk about a cycle of destruction, the drugs being sold here in the United States are then being used to fund precursor chemicals which will be used to make even more drugs that are sent into our country,” Estrada said.

Federal law enforcement has worked closely with the Ministry of Public Security in China since the meeting last November between President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Woodside, California, according to Estrada.

At least 22 of the 24 defendants have been arrested, Estrada said. Their charges include one count of conspiracy to aid and abet the distribution of cocaine and methamphetamine, one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, and one count of conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money-transmitting business.

Most of those in custody will be arraigned in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles in the coming weeks, the news release said.

Authorities said law enforcement also seized about $5 million in drugs, including just over 300 pounds (135 kilograms) of cocaine and 92 pounds (41 kilograms) of methamphetamine as well as other drugs and several firearms.

United States Attorney Martin Estrada, right looks on as Drug Enforcement Administrator Anne Milgram talks during a news conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. The Justice Department today announced a 10-count superseding indictment charging Los Angeles-based associates of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel with conspiring with money-laundering groups linked to Chinese underground banking to launder drug trafficking proceeds. (AP Photo/Jamie Ding)

United States Attorney Martin Estrada, right looks on as Drug Enforcement Administrator Anne Milgram talks during a news conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. The Justice Department today announced a 10-count superseding indictment charging Los Angeles-based associates of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel with conspiring with money-laundering groups linked to Chinese underground banking to launder drug trafficking proceeds. (AP Photo/Jamie Ding)

This undated photo provided by the U.S. District Attorney shows confiscated drug money. The Justice Department today announced a 10-count superseding indictment charging Los Angeles-based associates of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel with conspiring with money-laundering groups linked to Chinese underground banking to launder drug trafficking proceeds. (U.S. District Attorney via AP)

This undated photo provided by the U.S. District Attorney shows confiscated drug money. The Justice Department today announced a 10-count superseding indictment charging Los Angeles-based associates of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel with conspiring with money-laundering groups linked to Chinese underground banking to launder drug trafficking proceeds. (U.S. District Attorney via AP)

United States Attorney Martin Estrada backed by other law enforcement officials talks during a news conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. The Justice Department today announced a 10-count superseding indictment charging Los Angeles-based associates of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel with conspiring with money-laundering groups linked to Chinese underground banking to launder drug trafficking proceeds. (AP Photo/Jamie Ding)

United States Attorney Martin Estrada backed by other law enforcement officials talks during a news conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. The Justice Department today announced a 10-count superseding indictment charging Los Angeles-based associates of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel with conspiring with money-laundering groups linked to Chinese underground banking to launder drug trafficking proceeds. (AP Photo/Jamie Ding)

This undated photo provided by the U.S. District Attorney shows confiscated drugs piled up in a truck bed. The Justice Department today announced a 10-count superseding indictment charging Los Angeles-based associates of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel with conspiring with money-laundering groups linked to Chinese underground banking to launder drug trafficking proceeds. (U.S. District Attorney via AP)

This undated photo provided by the U.S. District Attorney shows confiscated drugs piled up in a truck bed. The Justice Department today announced a 10-count superseding indictment charging Los Angeles-based associates of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel with conspiring with money-laundering groups linked to Chinese underground banking to launder drug trafficking proceeds. (U.S. District Attorney via AP)

A leading far-right figure in the Israeli government visited Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site on Thursday, a move that threatened cease-fire talks to end the 9-month-old war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s Public Security Minister, said he went to the contested compound of Al-Aqsa Mosque to pray for the return of Israeli hostages in Gaza and to pressure Israel’s prime minister to continue with the military campaign in the territory.

Israeli negotiators were in Cairo on Wednesday to press ahead with cease-fire talks, as Israel and Hamas consider the latest proposal.

Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack sparked the war when militants stormed into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducting about 250. Since then, Israeli ground offensives and bombardments have killed more than 38,600 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry. It does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.

Hamas' Oct. 7 attack sparked the war when militants stormed into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducting about 250. Since then, Israeli ground offensives and bombardments have killed more than 38,600 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry. It does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.

Two international courts have accused Israel of war crimes and genocide – charges Israel denies. Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are crammed into squalid tent camps in central and southern Gaza. Israeli restrictions, fighting and the breakdown of law and order have limited humanitarian aid efforts, causing widespread hunger and sparking fears of famine.

Here’s the latest:

BEIRUT — Israeli drone strikes early Thursday in Lebanon killed at least one person, who was identified as Mohammad Hamed Jabbara, one of the leaders of the militant Sunni al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, or Islamic Group.

In a statement, the political and militant group said Jabbara was killed in a strike in the western Bekaa area in Lebanon not far from the Syrian border. The group gave no further details but Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said the drone fired a rocket at him while he was driving a pickup truck.

The Israeli military described Jabara as a Hamas operative in Lebanon who helped coordinate Islamic Group attacks targeting northern Israel.

The armed wing of the Islamic Group, the Fajr Forces, has also attacked northern Israel alongside its allies, Hamas and the Lebanese group Hezbollah. Similarly to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the group’s founded was inspired by the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Elsewhere in Lebanon, an Israeli drone struck a civilian vehicle in a village near the southern coastal city of Tyre. It’s unclear who was in the vehicle and whether they were killed or wounded.

The Israeli military did not immediately comment on the strikes, though it has acknowledged in previous instances that its attacks have targeted Hezbollah militants and allies.

Hezbollah launched attacks against Israel after the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza on Oct. 7 with the Hamas attack on southern Israel.

Since then, Israeli airstrikes on Lebanon have killed over 450 people, mostly Hezbollah fighters but also more than 80 civilians and non-combatants. On the Israeli side, 21 soldiers and 13 civilians have been killed since the war in Gaza began.

Tens of thousands of people on both sides of the tense Lebanon-Israel frontier have been displaced in the monthslong war.

JERUSALEM — Israel’s parliament extended a temporary law which allows the country to shut down foreign media outlets they consider a threat to Israel’s security. In a marathon session that lasted until early Thursday morning, the parliament gave final approval to extend the emergency law until Nov. 30.

Israeli officials used the new law on May 5 to close Qatar-based Al Jazeera within Israel, confiscating its equipment, banning its broadcasts and blocking its websites.

Under the law, Israel’s Communications Ministry also briefly seized AP broadcasting equipment from southern Israel after accusing it of violating a new media law by providing images to Al Jazeera. The government returned the equipment to AP several hours later.

A bill that would make the emergency legislation permanent is currently making its way through the Israeli parliament. The draft said a permanent bill is needed because Israel “has faced serious security threats since its establishment and is expected to continue to face them in the future, possibly even more severely.”

Critics say the measure passed earlier this year is undemocratic and a threat to press freedom.

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — Overnight Israeli strikes Thursday in central Gaza killed at least 11 people, including women and children.

Early Thursday an Israeli strike hit a house in central Gaza, killing at least six people, while another strike later hit a car, killing at least three. The dead were taken to the Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, where an Associated Press journalist counted the bodies.

Among the six killed in the early strike in Zawaida were two children and two women. The area struck is close to Deir al-Balah, where many Palestinians displaced from across the war-torn Gaza Strip have fled.

Meanwhile, Gaza’s Civil Defense organization said they pulled two dead bodies and seven wounded from the rubble following an Israeli airstrike in Bureij that hit a family house.

Israel’s military said it had targeted two commanders from the militant Palestinian group Islamic Jihad, one from the group's naval forces and the other responsible for launches in the city of Shujaiya.

Destroyed buildings stand in the Gaza Strip during the sunset as seen from southern Israel, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Destroyed buildings stand in the Gaza Strip during the sunset as seen from southern Israel, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Relatives and friends of Israeli soldiers who were killed and of those who were kidnapped during the Oct. 7 Hamas cross-border attack take part in a march in southern Israel, Wednesday, July 17, 2024, demanding the creation of a committee of inquiry to investigate the events on that day. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Relatives and friends of Israeli soldiers who were killed and of those who were kidnapped during the Oct. 7 Hamas cross-border attack take part in a march in southern Israel, Wednesday, July 17, 2024, demanding the creation of a committee of inquiry to investigate the events on that day. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a session of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a session of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses lawmakers in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses lawmakers in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

FILE - This image provided by the U.S. Army shows trucks loaded with humanitarian aid from the United Arab Emirates and the United States Agency for International Development cross the Trident Pier before arriving on the beach on the Gaza Strip, May 17, 2024. The U.S. military-built pier to carry humanitarian aid to Gaza is being dismantled and brought home, ending a mission that has been fraught with weather and security problems. (Staff Sgt. Malcolm Cohens-Ashley/U.S. Army via AP, File)

FILE - This image provided by the U.S. Army shows trucks loaded with humanitarian aid from the United Arab Emirates and the United States Agency for International Development cross the Trident Pier before arriving on the beach on the Gaza Strip, May 17, 2024. The U.S. military-built pier to carry humanitarian aid to Gaza is being dismantled and brought home, ending a mission that has been fraught with weather and security problems. (Staff Sgt. Malcolm Cohens-Ashley/U.S. Army via AP, File)

Palestinians pray next to the bodies of their relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, at a hospital morgue in Deir al-Balah, Tuesday, July 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Palestinians pray next to the bodies of their relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, at a hospital morgue in Deir al-Balah, Tuesday, July 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Mahmoud Rayhan, who was displaced by the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, stands at a makeshift tent camp in Khan Younis, Wednesday, June 26, 2024. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza are struggling to maintain their mental health with few resources and no safe places to recover after nine months of war. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Mahmoud Rayhan, who was displaced by the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, stands at a makeshift tent camp in Khan Younis, Wednesday, June 26, 2024. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza are struggling to maintain their mental health with few resources and no safe places to recover after nine months of war. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

FILE - The image provided by U.S, Central Command, shows U.S. Army soldiers assigned to the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), U.S. Navy sailors assigned to Amphibious Construction Battalion 1, and Israel Defense Forces placing the Trident Pier on the coast of Gaza Strip on May 16, 2024. The U.S. military-built pier to carry humanitarian aid to Gaza is being dismantled and brought home, ending a mission that has been fraught with weather and security problems. (U.S. Central Command via AP)

FILE - The image provided by U.S, Central Command, shows U.S. Army soldiers assigned to the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), U.S. Navy sailors assigned to Amphibious Construction Battalion 1, and Israel Defense Forces placing the Trident Pier on the coast of Gaza Strip on May 16, 2024. The U.S. military-built pier to carry humanitarian aid to Gaza is being dismantled and brought home, ending a mission that has been fraught with weather and security problems. (U.S. Central Command via AP)

The sun sets behind the buildings in the Gaza Strip as seen from southern Israel, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

The sun sets behind the buildings in the Gaza Strip as seen from southern Israel, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Palestinian Mahmoud Mikdad holds the body of his 21-month-old child Yaman, killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, at a hospital morgue in Deir al-Balah, Tuesday, July 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Palestinian Mahmoud Mikdad holds the body of his 21-month-old child Yaman, killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, at a hospital morgue in Deir al-Balah, Tuesday, July 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Relatives and friends of Israeli soldiers who were killed and of those who were kidnapped during the Oct. 7 Hamas cross-border attack take part in a march in southern Israel, Wednesday, July 17, 2024, demanding the creation of a committee of inquiry to investigate the events on that day. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Relatives and friends of Israeli soldiers who were killed and of those who were kidnapped during the Oct. 7 Hamas cross-border attack take part in a march in southern Israel, Wednesday, July 17, 2024, demanding the creation of a committee of inquiry to investigate the events on that day. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

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