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Tijuana man pleads guilty in drug money-laundering scheme tied to Sinaloa cartel

Tijuana man pleads guilty in drug money-laundering scheme tied to Sinaloa cartel
A technician cuts open a package of cocaine prior to its destruction by authorities on March 1. (Fernando Antonio / Associated Press)

A Tijuana man pleaded guilty in a San Diego federal court in connection with his role in an international drug-money-laundering system connected to the notorious Sinaloa cartel that smuggled $13 million from the United States into Mexico.

Cesar Hernandez-Martinez, 29, admitted Thursday that he owned and operated currency exchange houses in Tijuana that received smuggled proceeds from narcotics trafficking in the U.S.

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Hernandez-Martinez also said he managed couriers involved in smuggling the money, making sure they picked up the currency from sources primarily located in Southern California. The scheme went on from about April 2013 to November 2015.

The narcotics — including cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin — were trafficked into the U.S. from Mexico by a drug trafficking organization Hernandez-Martinez acknowledged had ties to the notorious Sinaloa cartel, once headed by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Hernandez-Martinez was extradited from Mexico to the United States in September 2018 and is scheduled to be sentenced on July 8. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $26 million.

The defense attorney representing Hernandez-Martinez declined to comment Friday.

Three other defendants, also from Mexico, had previously pleaded guilty in the case and have been sentenced to serve up to 11 years in prison and pay fines ranging from $1,000 to $20,000, respectively.

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