A former member of Paraguay’s Congress was sentenced on Thursday to two years and nine months in prison by a federal judge in New Jersey for her role in an international money laundering conspiracy.
Cynthia Elizabeth Tarrago Diaz, 42, pleaded guilty to an information charging her with conspiracy to commit money laundering on Sept. 15, 2020, before Judge Freda L. Wolfson, the chief judge for the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.
Paraguay is a landlocked country between Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia in South America, with a population of 7 million.
Tarrago’s husband, Raimundo Va, 46, pleaded guilty on Sept. 16, 2020, to an information charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and he is scheduled to be sentenced on April 14, 2022.
Tarrago — a member of the right-wing National Republican Association or Colorado Party, which is the largest political party in the country — and Va were arrested by the FBI on Nov. 21, 2019, after they arrived in Newark, and they were charged in a criminal complaint along with a third individual, Rodrigo Alvarenga Paredes, who remains in Paraguay.
According to U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger, documents filed in this case and statements made in court, Tarrago was a member of Paraguay’s Congress until January 2019, and in late 2019, she announced her intention to run for mayor of the capital district of Asunción.
While in office, Tarrago and Va agreed to accept at least $2 million in United States currency from two individuals who represented themselves to be narcotics traffickers.
Tarrago and Va believed the money to be proceeds of unlawful narcotics trafficking and they agreed to launder the funds through an international network of accounts in order to disguise the unlawful source of the proceeds.
Tarrago and Va traveled to New Jersey and Florida on multiple occasions and accepted about $800,000 in United States currency from the purported drug traffickers.
The couple then caused those funds to be laundered through the conspiracy’s network of accounts and ultimately to be transferred back to an account maintained by the purported drug traffickers.
To disguise the illicit source of the funds, members of the conspiracy generated fraudulent invoices that stated legitimate business reasons for the transfers of laundered funds to the purported drug traffickers’ account.
On multiple occasions during the purported drug dealers’ meetings with Tarrago and Va, the lawmaker indicated that she would be able to assist the purported drug dealers with procuring large quantities of cocaine from Paraguay at an inexpensive price.
Unbeknownst to Tarrago and Va, the currency that they accepted from the purported drug traffickers and caused to be laundered was not actually illicit drug proceeds, but was provided to Tarrago and Va by two undercover FBI agents as part of an extensive investigation of the money laundering network.
The undercover agents met with Tarrago and Va in the United States on numerous occasions and obtained substantial video and audio recordings of their interactions with Tarrago and Va, during which details of the money laundering network were discussed.
The evidence obtained revealed that Alvarenga Paredes, operating through the auspices of a money-exchange company in Paraguay, coordinated the laundering of the funds that the undercover agents provided to Tarrago and Va.
In addition to the prison term, Judge Wolfson ordered Tarrago to forfeit $119,049.