A former member of Paraguay’s Congress thought that she and her husband were laundering $800,000 in drug money when they’d actually been caught in a New Jersey-based FBI sting, federal authorities said.
Cynthia Elizabeth Tarragó, 41, also promised the purported drug traffickers that she could get them large quantities of cocaine at a good price, they said.
Both Tarragó and her husband, Raimundo Va, 45, took guilty pleas in exchange for leniency at sentencing, admitting in federal court in Trenton this week that they conspired to launder what they believed would be as much $2 million in drug proceeds in exchange for a 15% cut.
A third accused member of the conspiracy remained at large, federal authorities said.
Tarragó, who was running for mayor of Paraguay’s capital city, Asunción, agreed with her husband while she was in Congress to accept at least $2 million from “two individuals who represented themselves to be narcotics traffickers,” U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said.
The couple pledged to “launder the funds through an international network of accounts in order to disguise the unlawful source of the proceeds,” he said.
Both flew to New Jersey and Florida several times, accepting $800,000 in U.S. currency and laundering it through a network of accounts back to the purported drug traffickers, Carpenito said.
To disguise the source of the purported dirty money, the couple produced bogus invoices, he said.
The undercover agents met several times in the United State with Tarragó and Va, recording their conversations on audio and video, Carpenito said.
The FBI arrested the couple at a Newark hotel last November after they flew as part of the money-laundering scheme. Tarragó and Va were charged along with Rodrigo Alvarenga Paredes, a high-ranking member of a large money-exchange company in Paraguay.
Parades, who Carpenito said coordinated the money laundering operation, remained a fugitive in Paraguay.
Meanwhile, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Freda L. Wolfson scheduled sentencing for Tarragó and Va for Jan. 21.
Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI Newark Division’s Trenton Resident Agency with the investigation leading to the guilty pleas. He also thanked member of the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs for their assistance in the case.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys R. Joseph Gribko of the Criminal Division in Trenton and J. Brendan Day, attorney in charge of the Carpenito’s Trenton office.
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