A Chula Vista man was sentenced Wednesday to five years in prison for running a money-laundering organization under the guise of airplane brokerage.
Vicente Contreras-Amezquita was at the helm of a Chula Vista-based scheme that moved $3.6 million in laundered funds to purchase more than 35 airplanes in a five-year period, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Hobson said.
The types of airplanes bought — Cessna 206s and 210s — are generally preferred by drug-trafficking organizations in Mexico because of their speed and ability to carry heavy payloads over long distances, officials said.
To cover the illicit activity, Contreras would get bulk cash at various locations including strip malls, parking lots, aircraft hangars and fast-food restaurants — all so he would be able to avoid making a transaction of at least $10,000, which would have to be reported.
That bulk cash would then be divided among his crew which would travel the country to deposit money into various bank accounts under different names.
Contreras, 47, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to launder more than $10,000 of criminally derived proceeds.
“Federal agents worked diligently to unravel and prove this five-year conspiracy, which involved laundering millions of dollars through convoluted financial transaction as part of a scheme to purchase airplanes with drug proceeds,” acting U.S. Attorney Alana Robinson said.
As federal authorities investigated Contreras in 2011 and 2012, they were able to seize a plane in Florida which was destined for Mexico and $350,000 in cash stuffed in cardboard boxes.
“Living the high life on drug proceeds will lead to a crash an burn,” said William Sherman, a San Diego-based Drug Enforcement Agency special agent.
— City News Service
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