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7 Indicted in Scheme to Launder U.S. Money at Exchange Houses

Times Staff Writer

Three federal “stings” have led to the indictments of seven people and two corporations on charges of laundering more than $3.5 million through border-area currency exchanges, U. S. Atty. William Braniff announced Wednesday.

One of those indicted, Bile Lim, 53, of El Centro was convicted on similar charges several years ago but continued to operate after he was fined $300 by a federal judge in San Diego, prosecutors said.

Lim’s case illustrates what federal agents view as the chronic nature of the money-laundering problems at currency exchanges near the U.S.-Mexican border, according to Assistant U.S. Atty. Paul A. DiPaolo, who supervised the joint investigation by the Internal Revenue Service and the U. S. Customs Service.

Lim is now charged with laundering $400,000 given to him by an undercover agent as well as $450,000 obtained from an unidentified source, according to the indictment.

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Frequented by Drug Dealers

Dozens of money exchanges operate near the border at San Ysidro and Calexico, ostensibly to exchange dollars and pesos for travelers. However, drug dealers frequently use the exchanges to “launder” the large amounts of cash they obtain in drug deals, making the money appear as if it was obtained legally, DiPaolo said.

The exchange operators indicted in the investigation are suspected of accepting large amounts of cash and charging commissions of about 8% to the agents, who were using cash seized in other investigations, DiPaolo said. The operators then transferred the money by wire to fake accounts set up by the agents and ignored federal laws that require reporting of all cash transactions of $10,000 or more, he added.

“Drug dealers notoriously have a lot of cash,” DiPaolo said. “If they can, they get some friendly banker to arrange the transaction. Somehow, they need to get this bulky cash legitimized. The deal is, ‘You pay me 8%, and I make sure nobody knows about it.’ ”

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Lim, the owner of Casa de Cambio Pronto-Lim in Calexico, was charged with failure to file currency transaction reports as well as filing false currency reports, charges similar to those he was convicted of several years ago, DiPaolo said.

Knowledge of Law Claimed

“The agents, before they did this undercover work, went and talked to him (Lim) to set it up, making sure he knew the law,” DiPaolo said. “Bile said, ‘Aw, you don’t have to tell me the law,’ and he laughed. He said, ‘The judge told me the law after I was convicted and got a $300 fine.’ ”

Lim, reached by phone at his money exchange Wednesday afternoon, said he was unaware of the new charges but conceded that he had made a “mistake” several years ago by violating currency reporting laws. When asked whether he had made similar mistakes since that time, he responded, “Unfortunately, yes.”

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Lim said a well-dressed businessman asked him last year to exchange about $11,000, and, at first, he refused. Later, Lim said, he agreed to handle several large transactions for the man.

“I figure it was an agent,” he said. “He got my confidence, and I (fell) for it.”

Lim said, however, that he took only a 1% commission on the transactions, not the 8% alleged by prosecutors, and that he could not recall the total amount of money he exchanged for the man.

Helpful to a Fault

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“I overdo myself in service,” Lim said. “I was just trying to be helpful and help people.” He denied that he exchanges money for drug dealers, adding, “I don’t even know those people.”

Also charged are several of Lim’s relatives, William Lim, 27, owner of Casa de Cambio Mexico in Calexico; Gloria Nevares, 36, and Janina Lim, 25, all of El Centro.

Charged in a separate investigations are Julio Galicot, 48, of Chula Vista and the International Money Exchange in San Ysidro, which allegedly laundered more than $500,000 in what was represented as illegal drug proceeds.

In the third case, Dario Levy, 63, and Soledad Pridemore, 35, both of Chula Vista, and Taquiza J & D, Inc., of San Ysidro were charged with laundering more than $2 million in U. S. currency, $100,000 of which came from undercover agents.

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An additional $1.9 million in unreported large currency transactions was also discovered during the investigation.


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