5 Charged With Laundering $36 Million

Five people, including an investment officer with Bank of America, have been charged by federal authorities with conspiracy to violate cash transaction reporting laws by laundering more than $36 million through three local banks and a San Ysidro currency exchange house.

According to a complaint unsealed in federal court Wednesday, Blue House Financial, a currency exchange in San Ysidro, and three banks--Bank of America in Coronado, California Commerce Bank in San Diego and Balboa National Bank in San Ysidro--were allegedly used to launder more than $36 million in what authorities believe was illegal drug money.

The banks were not charged with any wrongdoing in the complaint. The defendants as a group were defined as a "financial institution" in the affidavit.

Charged with conspiracy to violate the Bank Secrecy Act were Guillermina Watson, a customer investment officer with the Bank of America; Beatriz Mejia Coninck; Cecelia Mejia Rojo; Stephanie Denis and Christian Galindo.

Watson, Coninck and Denis are being held without bail pending a detention hearing Monday. Assistant U.S. Atty. Barry Moskowitz would not comment on the whereabouts of Rojo and Galindo.

Two other people--Ivette Altamirano and Jose Luis Ruiz--are in custody as material witnesses, Moskowitz said.

The charges stem from an ongoing investigation by the President's Organized Crime and Narcotics Task Force in the U.S. attorney's office. Moskowitz is chief of financial investigations in that task force.

Federal law requires report filings on all cash transactions exceeding $10,000. The regulations target sources of illegally obtained funds, especially drug money along the border.

According to an affidavit by a U.S. Customs Service special agent, Daryl W. Shumaker, federal authorities had used telephone and physical surveillance on the defendants since January, 1985.

In his affidavit, Shumaker reports that Bank of America's Watson deposited checks to various accounts at her bank and "coordinated the movement of these funds to individuals . . . in Colombia, South America."

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