The Drug Enforcement Administration uncovered a money-laundering conspiracy dealing in large amounts of cash from suspected drug proceeds, including more than $500,000 found in the cab of a truck in Scott County, according to documents filed in federal court in Lexington.
Four people allegedly involved in the conspiracy were scheduled to make a first appearance in federal court Friday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Wier. They are identified in court documents as Ciro Macias Martinez, Brizeida Janet Sosa, Laura Lisa Ortiz and Smirna Ortiz.
Police seized $575,440 in cash during a November search of a tractor-trailer cab parked at the Horse Park Travel Center/Shell gas station on Iron Works Park, according to a DEA agent’s affidavit filed in court.
The truck driver admitted to the DEA agent and others that he was a contract drug-money courier who was working for an organization in southern Texas, the affidavit said.
The driver said “he was fully aware the money was in fact drug money and that he had just picked the money up from a Hispanic male he did not know a few miles from where he had been stopped,” the affidavit said.
Based on surveillance, investigators knew the person who dropped off the money to the driver was Martinez, the affidavit said.
The driver said he was to drive to southern Texas where he would deliver the money to “an unknown subject who would come to retrieve it.”
The driver said he thought the money “belonged to a Mexican drug cartel as payment for drugs.”
Two days later, on Nov. 13, Martinez delivered a large brown box to a Kentucky State Police undercover agent. The box contained $199,090 in suspected drug proceeds, the affidavit said.
The affidavit outlines how Martinez, Sosa and the Ortizes deposited thousands of dollars in drug proceeds into the accounts of various banks in Nashville and nearby Tennessee cities and in North Carolina.
Investigators found an additional $297,880 during a Feb. 2 traffic stop of a van in Shelby County. The money represented the proceeds of drug sales by Martinez and others, the affidavit said.
Another seizure in Lexington yielded $302,150 from a residence on Mount Tabor Road.
Investigators think Martinez headed a local money-laundering cell that collected the money from drug proceeds and then transferred it to a courier for a larger criminal organization.
The money was then deposited in amounts of less than $10,000 to avoid transaction reports by the banks. The withdrawal of the money from those accounts would take place in a different region than where the account was opened.
The deposits and withdrawals from these funnel accounts are made by “straw” parties called “smurfs,” who are not the actual owners, the affidavit said. Smurfs conduct financial transactions on behalf of a criminal organization and keep organization leaders removed from the transactions, thereby shielding the identities of those leaders.
Martinez and Sosa also possessed with intent to distribute an amount of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of heroin, the affidavit and criminal complaint say.