International drug trafficker pleads guilty to money laundering conspiracy

The leader of an international money laundering organization in the Dominican Republic today admitted in a New Jersey courtroom to his role in a conspiracy to commit money laundering. 

Luis Velazquez-Cordero, aka El Pequeño, 37, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Brian R. Martinotti to Count One of an indictment charging him with conspiring to commit money laundering.

Velazquez-Cordero was extradited to the United States after his arrest the Dominican Republic on July 28, 2020.

According to U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger, documents filed in this case and statements made in court, Velazquez-Cordero was the leader of a money-laundering organization that used the United States banking system to convert over $80 million in cash from illegal drug sales into cashier’s checks and bank accounts so that the money could be transferred back to international drug trafficking organizations in the Dominican Republic.

Velazquez-Cordero directed conspirators in New Jersey, New York, and Florida to pick up cash drug proceeds and exchange the cash for cashier’s checks at United States banks.

Velazquez-Cordero provided the amount of each check, the payee, and the bank accounts into which the checks should be deposited. 

The checks were then deposited into the payee accounts, many of which were controlled by shell corporations and used as a means to facilitate laundering illegal drug proceeds.

The cashier’s check 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.

As part of his plea, Velazquez-Cordero also agreed to forfeit $1.4 million in United States currency seized during the investigation, as well as five properties in the Dominican Republic and 10 vehicles, including a Ferrari. 

The money laundering count to which Velazquez-Cordero pleaded guilty carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $500,000 or twice the amount involved in the offense, whichever is greater. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 14, 2022.

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