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Two Bankers Plead Innocent To Charges of Laundering $30 Million

January 14, 1994

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ A current and a former executive of an American Express Co. subsidiary pleaded innocent Friday to charges of helping a reputed Mexican drug kingpin launder $30 million in tainted profits.

Antonio Giraldi and Maria Lourdes Reategui are accused of several counts of laundering profits from the alleged drug organization of Juan Garcia Abrego, one of Mexico’s most notorious fugitives.

U.S. Magistrate John William Black tentatively scheduled trial for the two to begin March 4.

Giraldi is a senior vice president for American Express Bank International’s Miami office and Maria Lourdes Reategui is a former employee of the bank’s Los Angeles office.

A federal indictment, issued last month, accuses the two of setting up international bank accounts for Ricardo Aguirre Villagomez, a gas station owner from Matamoros, Mexico, who is named as a key money launderer for the Abrego drug ring.

Abrego, who is wanted in both the United States and Mexico, was accused in a 1990 U.S. indictment of running a Matamoros-based organization that smuggled multi-ton quantities of cocaine into the United States through ties to Colombian drug lords.

The indictment alleges that Aguirre moved the money from exchange houses and Texas banks to his bank accounts in Switzerland, then to his holding companies in the Cayman Islands.

The money was then invested in apparently legitimate businesses in the United States and Mexico to hide its origin as drug profits, the indictment alleges.

Giraldi and Reategui have been free on $100,000 bond each since surrendering to U.S. Customs Service agents last month.

American Express Bank International is a subsidiary of American Express Co.’s international bank, American Express Bank Ltd.

The indictment alleges that Giraldi and Reategui made false statements in the bank’s records to secure loans for Aguirre, with Aguirre’s drug proceeds as collateral.

The Customs Service, the lead agency in the investigation, has seized about $30 million in Aguirre assets.

American Express Bank International unsuccessfully tried to persuade U.S. District Judge Filemon B. Vela to unfreeze those assets. The bank said in court papers that it used $29 million of Aguirre’s money as collateral for $19 million in loans to companies that Aguirre controlled.

The Federal Reserve Board, a key bank regulator, told the bank to list the $19 million in loans as doubtful and charge half their amount against 1993 earnings, the bank’s lawyers told the court.

Aguirre’s family has claimed in court documents that he died in a car accident in Mexico shortly after a separate U.S. indictment in February. But Judge Vela has ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to prove Aguirre’s death.

U.S. authorities consider him a fugitive.

As a result of Vela’s decision, the $30 million in assets has remained frozen. The new indictment seeks complete forfeiture of the assets to the federal government.

Giraldi and Reategui are charged with one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, 10 counts of money laundering, two counts of bank fraud and four counts of misapplication of funds. Aguirre faces the same conspiracy, money laundering and bank fraud counts.

Also charged with conspiracy and 10 counts of money laundering are Aguirre; his wife, Rosalinda Silva de Aguirre; Fernando Herrera Vasquez; Rogelio Rodriguez Montemayor, and Francisco Castaneda Cantu.

Castaneda is imprisoned on another money laundering conviction, but the rest remain at large, authorities say.

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