For almost five years, former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Darnell Garcia deposited more than $2 million in European bank accounts, according to Swiss bank records presented this week in federal court.
The records, obtained by U.S. prosecutors under a treaty with the Swiss government, revealed that the money was deposited in Swiss Bank Corp. branches in two small towns on the Italian border, and then transferred to a branch in Luxembourg.
The bank documents form a crucial component in the government’s case against Garcia, who is on trial in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Garcia, 43, of Rancho Palos Verdes, faces charges of drug trafficking, money laundering and leaking intelligence information to drug dealers.
In testimony Wednesday and Thursday, Swiss Bank official Dominik Kalberer, appearing for the prosecution, pointed to a blowup of Garcia’s Swiss bank statement and told jurors it shows that on April 18, 1988, the ex-DEA agent walked into the bank’s Luxembourg branch, withdrew more than $2 million in cash, and left.
Kalberer, who is based in New York, said the Swiss banking system allows anyone--including Garcia--to use private, numbered accounts and code names when making telephone transactions. For his three accounts at Swiss Bank Corp., he testified, Garcia used the names Pedro, Brito and Tato.
In presenting their case to the jury, prosecutors Joyce Karlin and Stefan Stein have underscored that Garcia’s foreign bank accounts represent profits he made trafficking in cocaine and heroin with two other DEA agents.
Garcia’s attorneys, Mark Overland and Mark Borenstein, are attempting to show that much of Garcia’s fortune was generated by commissions he made through smuggling gold jewelry for an Italian-based firm, Oro Aurora, which had an outlet in Los Angeles’ jewelry district.
According to the Swiss bank’s figures, Garcia opened his account in the Italian border town of Chiasso with a cash deposit of $100 on Nov. 8, 1983. Then, through April, 1985, Garcia deposited 45 cashier’s checks, totaling $372,215.
Investigators from the Internal Revenue Service, who have played a key role on a government task force compiling evidence in the DEA’s worst corruption case, believe that they have located all of the American banks from which the cashier’s checks were purchased.
In laying out its case, the government questioned the Swiss banker in great detail about Garcia’s transactions between 1983 and 1988.
Records show that from June, 1985, to November, 1987, Garcia deposited $1,712,249 in the Swiss Bank Corp.'s branch in Mendrisio, Switzerland. Almost $1 million of the money was deposited in cash.
The government is attempting to prove that this cash represented profits from the theft of 396 pounds of cocaine from a Pasadena garage in November, 1985.
Former DEA Agent John Jackson, who has pleaded guilty to taking part in the Pasadena theft and other charges, told jurors he carried a briefcase bulging with cash past airport security by flashing his DEA credentials and boarded a flight for Europe. Prosecutors are attempting to prove that Garcia--Jackson’s DEA partner at the time--also carried large sums of drug money abroad.
At one point, the government said, Garcia instructed the Swiss Bank Corp. branch in Mendrisio to wire $420,000 to his account at Santa Monica Bank. These funds were ultimately used to help purchase a $585,000 house in Rancho Palos Verdes.
Two of the money-laundering counts against Garcia refer to this transaction. Prosecutors allege that Garcia laundered drug money from a foreign account to a U.S. account and then laundered the cash through the purchase of his house.
According to bank records, Garcia transferred $1.88 million from Mendrisio to a bank branch in Luxembourg on Oct. 9, 1987. By then, according to the testimony of a government witness, Garcia was concerned that he was under investigation.
Six months later, Garcia withdrew $2,084,500 from the Luxembourg bank and took it to a branch of Union Bank of Switzerland, where the funds were deposited.
By the end of 1988, Garcia was a fugitive. He was arrested in 1989.