Ten people were indicted Wednesday by a Los Angeles federal grand jury on charges of operating a scheme to launder the profits of cocaine traffickers by converting cash to cashiers' checks, the U.S. attorney's office announced.
The ring allegedly operated out of a Lincoln Heights auto parts store and used runners who carried the checks from tellers or from various banks in the Los Angeles area. The checks were always for less than $10,000 to prevent the banks from submitting federally required currency transaction reports to the Internal Revenue Service.
In this manner, according to Assistant U.S. Atty. Brian A. Sun, the alleged ring transferred at least $4 million to bank accounts in Connecticut, New York and Miami between early 1984 and this month.
The accounts were in the names of Pro Engine Rebuilding and G & W Auto Parts Inc., both in the 2900 block of North Broadway, and in the names of three of the defendants. The accounts were used by South American drug smugglers, Sun said.
Two Calls for Cocaine
He also said that during a search of the auto parts store last week, two telephone calls came in from people wanting to buy cocaine. Both callers were arrested--although not named in the indictment--when they arrived, allegedly to pick up some cocaine. One of them had telephoned from El Paso, Tex., and reportedly was persuaded by Drug Enforcement Administration agents to fly here.
Cocaine sales were just a sideline for the ring, Sun said. Its primary business was money laundering.
Named in the 15-count indictment were William Edgar Murcia, 33, of Alhambra; Arturo Santiago Arocha, 35, of Diamond Bar; William Arias Mayor, 27, of Alta Loma; Arturo Vigil, 22, of Covina; Francisco Saenz Castillo, 31, of West Covina; Rene Francisco Galvez, 31, and Fred Henry Coca, 53, both of Los Angeles.
Also indicted were Oscar Edmund Murcia Jr., 35, of Alexandria, Va.; Ruby Vidal, 36, of Alhambra, and Katherine Marie Torres, 31, of Los Angeles.
Vigil was reported to be a fugitive.
Sun said about $50,000 in cash was seized at the home of one defendant.
The defendants are charged with conspiracy to aid and abet narcotics trafficking, conspiracy to defraud and conceal from the government the true sources of laundered money and with various violations of the federal currency reporting laws.
If convicted on all charges, each defendant would face a possible 90 years in prison and/or a fine of $4,655,000.
Bond on the 10 ranged from $15,000 to no bail--the latter for those natives of Colombia, El Salvador and Cuba considered substantial flight risks. The defendants are to be arraigned before a Los Angeles federal magistrate on Monday.
The investigation began eight months ago, according to Sun, after a bank employee tipped IRS agents. The probe was conducted by the Financial Investigations Task Force, which includes representatives of the U.S. attorney's office, the IRS and the U.S. Customs Service. Also involved were the federal drug administration and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.