Tijuana currency exchange house owner sentenced to 137 months for laundering $13 million of narcotics proceeds for Sinaloa Cartel

SAN DIEGO – Cesar Hernandez-Martinez, a 29-year-old Tijuana man, was sentenced in federal court Tuesday to 137 months in custody for laundering $13 million of narcotics proceeds for the Sinaloa Cartel. Hernandez owned and operated currency exchange houses in Tijuana that received proceeds from the sale of multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin smuggled into the United States by the cartel.

The sentencing is the result of an eight-year investigation spearheaded by special agents from ICE Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego.

"This sentence reflects the hard work of our special agents and regional partners who diligently worked to investigate this money laundering organization," said Cardell T. Morant, acting special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). "HSI remains committed to targeting the flow of money which fuels transnational organized crime, and we will continue to aggressively pursue those that enable the flow of deadly narcotics into our communities."
"The profit motive is at the heart of the world's most violent drug trafficking organizations and cash is their lifeblood," said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. "We will continue to work relentlessly to stem the flow of dirty money that feeds these criminal organizations and end the agony caused by illicit narcotics in our community."

According to court records, Hernandez was a manager of the money laundering organization. He coordinated with others to smuggle U.S. currency from the United States to Mexico where it was converted to Mexican pesos and delivered to drug traffickers based in Sinaloa, Tijuana and elsewhere in Mexico. In his plea agreement, Hernandez admitted to coordinating the movement of these funds to Mexico and supervising the laundering of the drug proceeds.

In one instance detailed in the court papers, Chula Vista Police Department officers conducted a traffic stop of a money courier's vehicle and found approximately $186,035 of U.S. currency hidden inside plastic bags behind and under the rear passenger seat. The courier admitted the money came from drug sales and was released pending later prosecution. Subsequently, during court-authorized wiretaps, HSI agents intercepted communications showing that the courier told Hernandez about the seizure, that officers had not located all of the money hidden in the vehicle, and that the rest of the money was delivered to Hernandez or his exchange house in Tijuana.

The courier initially thought officers seized $50,000 and communicated that amount to Hernandez, who informed his superiors. Hernandez told the courier when the money arrived in Mexico that closer to $190,000 was missing. The courier was subsequently beaten by the drug traffickers and was released alive only after he promised to repay the "owner(s)" for the loss of their drug proceeds.

In addition to the six defendants in this case, approximately 20 other individuals have entered guilty pleas and been sentenced previously in related cases. Those cases have involved individuals based in the United States or who frequently crossed into the United States and served as money couriers, drug couriers and drug stash house operators and who were part of, or related to, the same money laundering and drug trafficking organization.

Four other defendants have previously entered guilty pleas in this case and been sentenced (Omar Ayon-Diaz, Osvaldo Contreras-Arriaga, Joel Acedo-Ojeda and Gibran Rodriguez-Mejia) and a fifth, Oscar Rodriguez-Guevara, entered his plea and is presently set for sentencing on March 23, 2020. A seventh defendant, Bianca Acedo-Ojeda, faces these same international money laundering conspiracy charges and is presently pending trial.

The U.S. Attorney's Office is working this matter together with the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

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