4 Men Plead Not Guilty to Drug Money Charges

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Four men arrested in the seizure of $17.2 million in alleged drug proceeds at a Sylmar house pleaded not guilty Monday to drug and money-laundering charges.

Gilberto Saavedra, 41, of Sylmar; his brother, Carlos Saavedra, 31, of Colombia; Jesus David Salazar, 25, of Upland; and Gabriel Olguin Gavivia, 37, appeared in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles and pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to launder narcotics proceeds and conspiracy to aid and abet drug trafficking.

U.S. Magistrate John R. Kronenberg set trial for the suspects for Oct. 2 before U.S. District Judge Robert M. Takasugi. The defendants face up to five years in prison if convicted on the laundering charge and could receive life terms if convicted on the drug charge.

The money--in currency ranging from $1 to $100 bills packed in cardboard boxes--was the largest cash seizure ever on the West Coast by law enforcement officials. The money was discovered July 24 in a four-bedroom home located in a quiet neighborhood in the 13800 block of Kinbrook Street.

The arrests and the cash seizure, including $590,000 found in two cars allegedly used by the defendants, were carried out by the U.S. Customs Service and a consortium of South Bay police agencies.

On Monday, federal authorities declined to release new information on the ongoing investigation of the alleged drug organization.

Officials have said that documents found during the raid at the home indicated that the cash had been gathered during drug deals in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Officials believe that the money was being readied for shipment to drug cartel leaders in Colombia.

The money seizure was made at a house about two miles from a Sylmar warehouse where 21 tons of cocaine and $12.2 million in cash were seized in September. Investigators of the latest seizure said they had not ruled out the possibility of a connection between the two alleged drug operations.

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