A Dickinson woman and two other people have been charged with running a $27 million "Black Market Peso Exchange" money-laundering scheme, federal prosecutors announced today.
Sarah Combs, 48, appeared in court here today; Willie Whitehurst, 44, of Houston will be arraigned next week and Enrique Morales, 42, of Houston and Guadalajara, Mexico, made his appearance in Laredo yesterday.
The three operated the so-called Black Peso operation, a popular way of laundering drug money, prosecutors with the Department of Justice and Internal Revenue Service say.
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The defendants allegedly picked up bulk U.S. cash that had been derived from the sale of illegal narcotics in several U.S. cities, including Dallas, Texas, and Charlotte, N.C., and received bulk cash at their headquarters in Houston.
They then deposited the money into various bank accounts in the names of "shell companies" owned and controlled by the defendants, according to the indictment. The money was then allegedly transferred to bank accounts owned by retailers in the U.S. and in Mexico. The indictment further alleges that in exchange, pesos were transferred to bank accounts owned and controlled by their clients.
Morales spent more than $90,000 of the funds on a 1979 Piper Cub airplane "so the defendants could more efficiently and safely transport the illegal proceeds they were hired to transmit and launder," prosecutors say.
Other defendants are still on the run and their indictments have yet to be unsealed. The money-laundering charges can result in prison terms of up to 20 years.