Mauricio Vargas


Mauricio Vargas, 44, has spent years in federal prison for cocaine trafficking and counterfeit currency convictions, police say.

A Miami man who has spent time in federal prison for cocaine trafficking is facing money laundering charges after police say they found more than $500,000 in cash in his car during a traffic stop.

Mauricio Antonio Vargas, 44, was pulled over Thursday after officers saw him run a red light in his 2013 Jeep Wrangler, according to a Miami-Dade Police arrest affidavit released Wednesday.

Vargas allowed officers to search the car and they found a black book bag under a seat that had a large amount of U.S. currency in bundles, plus a large plastic box with currency in it, the affidavit said.

When the money was counted more than $537,000 was in the bag and the box, the affidavit said.

Vargas said the money was given to him by a man who he said was a middle man for the Gulf Cartel, a drug trafficking organization in Mexico, the affidavit said. Vargas told detectives the money was payment for a cocaine shipment from the border originating from the cartel, the affidavit said.

Vargas was also actively engaging in the Colombian black market peso exchange, according to the affidavit.

Vargas was arrested Monday and remained behind bars without bond Wednesday, jail records showed. Attorney information wasn’t available.

According to the affidavit, Vargas has spent years in federal prison for multiple convictions on drug trafficking and counterfeit currency convictions.

Vargas was arrested by the DEA for cocaine trafficking in 2011 after driving from Miami to Orlando to receive a shipment of 124 kilograms of cocaine from Texas worth nearly $4 million, the affidavit said. He was later sentenced to five years in federal prison.

Vargas was also arrested in 1994 and 1996 for possession and distribution of counterfeit currency, and served 51 months in federal prison, the affidavit said.

In 1997, Vargas was arrested again for importing counterfeit currency and sentenced to 37 months in federal prison, the affidavit said.

Between April and May 2015, a DEA confidential informant learned that Vargas was coordinating to have 20 to 30 kilograms of cocaine brought from the southwestern border of the U.S. to South Florida, the affidavit said.

Vargas was planning on hiding the load in the gas tank of a tractor trailer that would be driven by a man who works for the U.S. government, possibly as a camera or communications technician on the border, the affidavit said.

In May 2015, Miami-Dade Police detectives learned Vargas was storing a large sum of currency in his home, which a source said came from international narco-trafficking and from importing counterfeit currency into the U.S. from Colombia, according to the affidavit.

Officers executed a search warrant and found numerous hidden compartments in the home but no currency, the affidavit said.