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Ex-Bank Chief Linked to Money Laundering

Times Staff Writer

The indicted former manager of the Bank of Coronado’s San Ysidro branch may have participated in the illegal laundering of as much as $20 million, according to government affidavits unsealed this week.

In addition, the documents, unsealed in U.S. District Court on Monday, reveal that many of the alleged money-laundering dealings involved either known or suspected narcotics traffickers.

Guadalupe M. (Cha Cha) Alcantar, the branch manager who is now on leave of absence from the bank, also made frequent telephone calls to a restaurant in Tijuana described as a meeting and distribution point for heroin dealers, according to the documents.

Alcantar also allowed many of the Mexican nationals who opened as many as 18 accounts at the branch to use her Chula Vista residence address on bank records, the affidavits said.

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The documents, written by U.S. Customs Agent Steven J. Trent in January and in March to support the government’s request for wiretaps on Alcantar’s office and home telephones, detail for the first time the alleged money-laundering dealings between Alcantar and citizens on both sides of the border. In addition, prosecutors for the first time claim that Alcantar had a quid pro quo for her actions--"to derive profit” for herself and her former husband, Tomas Alcantar.

5 Indicted on 44 Counts

Guadalupe Alcantar and four others were indicted last Friday on 44 counts of conspiring to defraud the bank, filing false cash transaction reports and failing to file other such reports.

Jerry Caughlin, Alcantar’s attorney, said his client “denies any wrongdoing whatsoever.”

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James G. Klingensmith, president and chief executive of Crown Bancorp, the holding company for the Bank of Coronado, could not be reached for comment.

The government is “continuing to work on related violations,” according to a law enforcement source close to the case. “The investigation will attempt to trace a lot of the money that went in there. We’re looking into additional violations against several Mexican citizens and a couple of U.S. citizens.”

The affidavits state that Alcantar met after hours at the bank several times with various Mexican nationals. Oftentimes, according to the documents, packages were unloaded from a car parked near the bank and either brought into the bank or moved to another vehicle.

Some of the packages were described as a “bulky brown leather portfolio” about the size of a large telephone book “wrapped in tan plastic.”

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The documents reveal that the San Ysidro branch of the Bank of Coronado sent three times the amount of cash to the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco as the amount sent by banks of similar size in San Diego.

‘Offshore Entities’

A Federal Reserve Bank executive interviewed by government prosecutors said that the bank’s transfer of large amounts of money last year was an attempt to move funds to several “offshore” entities without “raising suspicions or interest from any one correspondent bank.”

The documents show that bank officials, at the very least, were suspicious of Alcantar.

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For example, last Feb. 21, Mary Hays, security manager for the Bank of Coronado, told Alcantar that they should notify the FBI after Alcantar received a $500,000 cash deposit to open a new account from an undercover customs agent.

Alcantar told Hays that “this is a bank, not a church,” according to the documents, and that if “they sell hard dope, they sell hard dope.” The bank, she reportedly said, makes money simply by counting the cash.


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