A Paterson man admitted Tuesday that he laundered more than $2.5 million for Central and South American drug cartels operating in New Jersey and New York, federal authorities said.
Willy Cruz-Bonilla, 24, was among six Passaic County residents charged in a massive network that converted nearly $27 million in ill-gotten gains to more than 1,000 checks sent to the Dominican Republic, Colombia and elsewhere, Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael Honig said.
The scheme was "designed to conceal the nature, source, ownership, and control of the illegal drug proceeds in order to avoid scrutiny by law enforcement and banking institutions," a complaint on file in U.S. District Court in Newark says.
The defendants were typically paid a fee of $150 to $200 for each check they bought and then transferred to the cartels overseas, it says.
Rather than risk trial, Cruz-Bonilla took a deal from the government, pleading guilty via teleconference Tuesday with U.S. District Judge Katharine S. Hayden in Newark to "aiding and abetting an illegal money transmitting business," Honig said.
Over the course of a single year, Cruz-Bonilla admitted, he converted the dirty $2.5 million into more than 90 cashier’s checks that he bought at local bank branches in New Jersey and elsewhere, the U.S. attorney said.
Hayden scheduled sentencing for Feb. 1, 2022.
Honig credited special agents and task force officers of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's New Jersey Division and IRS - Criminal Investigation, as well as Morristown police and the Dominican Republic National Drug Directorate (Direccion Nacional de Control de Drogas) with the investigation leading to the plea, secured by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan M. Peck of the Criminal Division in Newark.
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