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Reputed Drug Kingpin Not Slowed by $50 Million Money Laundering Settlement

November 22, 1994

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ Juan Garcia Abrego remains a cocaine kingpin despite losing $33 million to the U.S. government, authorities say.

The forfeiture might have toppled smaller gangs, but the U.S. Customs Service conservatively estimates that Garcia Abrego’s Mexican organization does more than $20 billion in sales a year, distributing hundreds of tons of Colombian cocaine to the United States.

″We feel that his organization is continuing to import and distribute cocaine,″ said A. Wayne Smith, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Brownsville office.

The U.S. Justice Department announced Monday that American Express Bank International, which provides banking services to overseas clients of American Express Bank, agreed to drop its claim to any part of $40 million in laundered money and assets - including $33 million seized in 1992 and traced to Garcia Abrego.

The Beverly Hills, Calif.-based bank also was fined $7 million and agreed to spend $3 million on employee training to avoid future money-laundering problems.

Under the settlement, the government agreed not to seek criminal charges against the bank.

Prosecutors said it was the biggest civil fine ever assessed against a U.S. bank for money laundering. The only larger civil penalty in this country was $200 million against Bank of Credit and Commerce International, the multinational bank shut down by regulators in 1991 for widespread fraud.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dave Novak said the American Express fine was steep because it didn’t cooperate in the investigation. Bank officials contend they cooperated.

The $40 million was laundered by two bank officers convicted earlier this year, authorities said. Antonio Giraldi, a senior officer, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. His assistant, Lourdes Reategui, was sentenced to 3 years.

Prosecutors said the two men set up elaborate international transactions to hide the origin of drug profits in the accounts of their biggest client, Ricardo Aguirre Villagomez, a money launderer for Garcia Abrego.

Garcia Abrego’s group is the most powerful shipment arm for the Colombia- based Cali cartel, the world’s biggest cocaine trafficking organization, said FBI spokesman James Conway.

Testimony and court documents in the bankers’ trial alleged that Garcia Abrego used bribery and murder to grow from a small marijuana dealer into one of Mexico’s most notorious fugitives.

The Mexican government offers a $1 million reward for his arrest; the FBI offers $300,000.

A cousin who said he was Garcia Abrego’s errand boy for 13 years testified that the cartel leader handed out millions of dollars a month in bribes to Mexican officials.

The cousin, Francisco Perez Monroy, portrayed Garcia Abrego as a shrewd but hot-tempered boss who has children by several women, bets thousands of dollars on race horses, hires witch doctors out of superstition and doesn’t hesitate to order the death of associates who cross him.

Mexican authorities say the organization is responsible for up to 60 murders in Texas and Mexico.

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