Massive money-laundering sting sends Mexican cartel leader to prison, 20 years later

A package of cocaine is opened prior to its destruction in this March 1 photo. A Juarez drug cartel leader has been sentenced for a scheme involving more than a ton of cocaine.
(Fernando Antonio / Associated Press)

A leader in a Mexican drug cartel was sentenced Thursday to 18 years in prison for his role in a massive drug money-laundering scheme with the Juarez cartel.

Juan Jose Alvarez-Tostado Galvan, also known as “El Compadre,” pleaded guilty in January to transporting cocaine and other narcotics to the U.S. and laundering drug proceeds.

Alvarez-Tostado was indicted in 1998 with more than 100 other people and three major Mexican banks. Federal prosecutors said he managed the collection, laundering and distribution of at least $24 million and more than a ton of cocaine.


He was arrested in Mexico in 2005 and charged with operating a continuing criminal enterprise, money laundering and conspiracy. He was extradited to the U.S. in 2018.

His capture was part of a Los Angeles-based investigation — Operation Casablanca — into drug-money laundering by Mexican banks that was launched in 1995. Undercover officers from what was then the U.S. Customs Service set up shop in an L.A. warehouse and posed as freelance money launderers seeking assignments from Mexican drug dealers and bankers. The sting was once billed as the largest drug-money-laundering investigation in U.S. history.

The 1998 indictment alleged Alvarez-Tostado collected more than $40 million from narcotics sales in the U.S. and transferred the money into Mexican bank accounts on behalf of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, reputed chief of the Juarez cartel until his death in 1997 during plastic surgery.

According to his plea agreement, Alvarez-Tostado supervised the collection and laundering of drug proceeds from distributors in the U.S. The money was transferred to his suppliers in Colombia, often through wire transfers to U.S. bank accounts he controlled.

At the sentencing hearing, Alvarez-Tostado apologized to Americans “for the harm I caused, consciously or unconsciously, to the citizens.”

City News Service contributed to this report.


Twitter: @r_valejandra