NATIONWIDE DRUG TRAFFICKING NETWORK LEADER ADMITS TO LAUNDERING AT LEAST $1.5M through use of USA postal services
Antonio Romero Jr. admitted to laundering drug money through the use of the U.S. Postal Service or other means such as Federal Express from 2009 until 2016.
The Melendez drug ring was responsible for distributing crack cocaine throughout the Laredo area.
Adan Melendez Jr.
Carlos Alberto Acosta
Jorge Armando Perez
Jesus Rosendo Garcia
Jesus Enrique Ramirez
Hector Manuel Cavazos
Luis Felipe Melendez
Julio Eduardo Almazan
Juan Jose Melendez
Jose Juan Sosa
Mario Alberto Melendez
Maria Guadalupe Melendez
Maria Del Rosario Melendez
Rafael Andres Melendez
Robert Daniel Perez
Maria “Wawi” Guadalupe Melendez
Robert Daniel Perez
Carlos Alberto “Pinni” Acosta
Julio Eduardo Almazan Jr.
Jesus Rosendo “Goldy” Garcia-Melendez
An alleged leader of a drug trafficking cell that moved narcotics and laundered the drug proceeds through local bank accounts in a long-term conspiracy is facing up to life in prison after pleading guilty Wednesday in federal court.
Antonio Romero Jr. admitted to laundering at least $1.5 million in drug proceeds obtained as part of an operation that distributed cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl through the use of the U.S. Postal Service or other means such as Federal Express from 2009 until 2016.
He pleaded guilty to charges of drug trafficking conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy during a hearing held before U.S. Magistrate Judge Guillermo R. Garcia.
Court records refer to Romero, 30, as an established drug dealer “without employment sufficient to maintain the lifestyle enjoyed by himself, his wife, Olinda Romero, or other immediate family.”
His wife is facing up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty earlier this month to her role in the conspiracy.
According to Romero, his job focused on trafficking the narcotics. His plea agreement stipulates that he did not participate in the manufacturing or importation of narcotics.
Court documents detail intercepted phone calls of Romero discussing the transport of narcotics on numerous occasions.
This includes a conversation in which agents learned Romero had shipped 775 fentanyl pills from Florida to Massachusetts in September 2015.
On another occasion in November 2015, agents discovered Romero and others were attempting to transport heroin pills from Atlanta to New York. The organization was trying to locate a buyer for 30,000 heroin pills, according to court records.
Romero admits to coordinating the movement of no more than 33 pounds of methamphetamine, 127 pounds of cocaine and 6 pounds of heroin. The prosecution believes he is responsible for another 50 pounds of methamphetamine from a transaction that Romero disputes helping with.
The conspiracy was widespread, with Romero operating out of Orlando, Florida while members of the operation worked in Laredo and other states.
To date, 22 of 26 defendants have pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme. Charges were dismissed against one defendant.
Romero’s involvement became known in July 2010, when agents in Philadelphia seized $117,661 in cash from him.
Bank records show that Romero’s wife had several accounts opened between 2010 and 2015 that received over $550,000 in cash deposits. Agents intercepted Romero directing members of the drug trafficking organization to make deposits directly into his wife’s bank accounts on multiple occasions in 2014.
Romero assisted in laundering drug proceeds, often contacting co-defendant Oscar Mancillas regarding the movement and delivery of drug proceeds through various funnel accounts, according to court documents filed as part of Romero’s plea agreement.
Mancillas pleaded guilty Aug. 10 to charges of drug trafficking conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.
Agents identified numerous individual bank accounts, known as funnel accounts, in Laredo that received multiple case deposits, in amounts below the cash reporting threshold. The funds from these deposits were immediately withdrawn in Laredo. During the course of the investigation into the conspiracy, agents identified over $765,000 of drug proceeds moved through known funnel accounts.
The organization used various U.S. bank accounts to transfer drug proceeds from U.S. distribution hub cities to U.S. cities along the Mexican border, including Laredo, and to places outside the United States, such as Mexico, Ecuador and Peru, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
Romero alleges he wasn’t in charge of contacting anyone to make deposits. Rather, Romero says his father and brother are responsible for the money laundering scheme in Laredo.
His father and brother have not been identified in court documents and they are not named defendants in the case.
USA DOJ ANNOUNCEMENT: Authorities Make Multiple Arrests in Large Narcotics Trafficking and Money Laundering Conspiracy
LAREDO, Texas – A total of 18 defendants have been taken into custody in Laredo, San Antonio and other areas of the country on charges involving cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson.
Those taken into custody include Antonio Romero Jr., 29, of Laredo, who has been identified as the head of the drug trafficking cell which operated out of Orlando, Florida. He was taken into custody in Orlando where he made his initial appearance and ordered detained pending further criminal proceedings in Laredo. His wife, Olinda Romero, 29, of Mexico, was also arrested in Orlando under on money laundering charges. Authorities also arrested Loreto Castaneda Macedo, 37, of Mexico, and Francisco Javier Salazar Diaz, 58, of Mexico, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
In South Texas, authorities arrested 12 others who will make their initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge Guillermo R. Garcia on Monday, Oct. 31, 2016. Those persons include Nora Arlette Romero, 37, Tito Garcia, 44, Oscar N. Mancillas, 26, Karina Mancillas-Rubio, 28, Jason Aguilar Blake, 29, Jesus Miguel Torres, 30, Daniel Laurel, 31, Hector Ortiz, 22, Stephanie Ozuna, 26, Maria Lilia Ozuna, 61, Oscar Mancillas Santos, 56, and Olga Calzado de Mancillas, 54.
Two others – Luis Felipe Santos Alejandro, 29, and Dennis Alvarez Boquin, 32, were arrested in Santa Monica, California, and Atlanta, Georgia, respectively.
The defendants are alleged members of a drug and money laundering organization and are charged with various to include engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute multi kilograms quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl, conspiracy to launder drug proceeds and numerous other money laundering violations.
The indictments charge the defendants with engaging in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl through the use of the U.S. Postal Service or other means such as Federal Express. They allegedly used various U.S. bank accounts to transfer drug proceeds from U.S. distribution hub cities to U.S. cities along the Mexican border, including Laredo, and to places outside the United States, such as Mexico, Ecuador and Peru.
In addition to the criminal charges, the indictments seek to forfeit all property, real and personal, involved in the offenses and all property traceable to such property to include but not limited to approximately $5 million in U.S. currency. In conjunction with the arrests, authorities seized at least 28 vehicles as property derived from drug proceeds.
The charges are the culmination of a long term Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Investigation dubbed Tres Equis spearheaded by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) with assistance of IRS – Criminal Investigation. Agencies also lending support to the investigation and arrests include the U.S. Marshals Service, Laredo Police Department, sheriff’s offices in Webb and Zapata Counties, Webb County District Attorney’s Office, U.S. Border Patrol and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Graciela R. Lindberg is prosecuting the case.
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