Ledgers Lead to 3 Suspected of Laundering Drug Money
Ledgers seized from an Anaheim drug dealer have led to the breakup of a money-laundering operation that allegedly funneled as much as $25 million in cocaine profits annually through Santa Barbara financial institutions, authorities said Friday.
The operators allegedly catered to several Colombian drug rings and kept meticulous records, reporting money transfers to the Internal Revenue Service with false claims that they were generated by legitimate businesses in Venezuela, according to federal court documents.
Arrested Thursday and charged with conspiracy to aid in cocaine distribution were Stefan Von Metzger, 64, of Santa Barbara, a Yugoslavian who has lived in Colombia; Reinhold Almqvist, 42, of Santa Barbara and Vladimir Novak, 59, of the San Fernando Valley.
Held Without Bail
At a hearing Friday, U.S. Magistrate Joseph Reichmann ordered Von Metzger and Almqvist held without bail. Novak, who collapsed after his arrest and was hospitalized, did not appear in court.
Transactions documented by banking records show at least $8.2 Million was deposited in 28 different accounts in five Santa Barbara banks between April and September, 1985, and then was wired almost immediately to banks in Panama, authorities said.
The prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Atty. John S. Gordon, called it a “major” laundering operation.
Among the clients, the prosecutor said, were Daniel and Hernando Serrano, two brothers from Colombia who, under Colombian fugitive Jose Miller, once ran Orange County’s largest cocaine ring.
The case dates back to 1986 and the arrest of Carlos Albert Ortiz during a 10-kilogram cocaine sale in Anaheim. U.S. Customs Service agents seized coded ledgers from Ortiz’s car and a warehouse he had used on Mira Loma Avenue in Anaheim.
Last year Ortiz, who is serving three years in prison for drug sales, explained the ledgers to agents. They documented the distribution of more than 300 kilograms of cocaine and $3.5 million in sales in one month alone, according to an affidavit filed in connection with the money-laundering case by Customs Agent Loraine E. Brown.
Working on the instructions of his boss, “Pino,” who lived in Florida, Ortiz said, he made payments as ordered to “Stefan” out of drug profits, according to Brown’s affidavit. One ledger entry listed a $500,000 payment with a $40,000 commission to “Stefan.”
Shown a picture of Von Metzger, Ortiz identified him as the man receiving profits, according to documents in the court file. And Ortiz’s personal phone book contained office and home telephone numbers for Von Metzger in Santa Barbara, according to Brown’s statement.
Investigators checked bank records in Santa Barbara and found evidence of laundering at a rate of more than $2 million a month, with most of the cash going to Panamanian banks.
They also found that Von Metzger had “created a sophisticated, meticulous false paper trail to create an apparently legitimate source for the millions of dollars in cash,” Brown said.
Transfers Reported to IRS
The government requires that such large cash transfers be reported to the Internal Revenue Service. Von Metzger did so but falsely claimed that the cash had been brought to Southern California by air
courier from Caracas, Venezuela, where it had been generated by legitimate businesses.
When information in the documents was checked against airline schedules and passenger lists, none of the names of the couriers appeared on flight manifests. The Venezuelan businessmen identified as the sources denied having sent any cash to Von Metzger.
The ring is believed to have been in operation from at least 1985 until April, 1987.
“The scheme that they appear to have perpetrated allowed the proceeds of cocaine trafficking in this region to be moved out of the country in a manner that ensured that the identity of Von Metzger’s cocaine trafficking clients would remain secret from the government,” Brown’s affidavit said.
Almqvist allegedly worked with Von Metzger in Santa Barbara, and Novak allegedly helped transfer the cash to Santa Barbara.