Columbian Pleads Guilty to Money Laundering for Cartel
ATLANTA (AP) _ A Colombian man reputed to be the financial wizard for the Medellin drug cartel pleaded guilty Thursday to charges he helped launder more than $1.2 billion in illegal drug profits.
Eduardo Martinez-Romero pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge William C. O’Kelley.
The early morning hearing was held without publicity and amid tight security after the death of co-defendant Gustavo Gaviria, who was killed Aug. 11 in a shootout with Columbian authorities.
Martinez, speaking through an interpreter, admitted to helping the cartel launder more than $1.2 billion through a nationwide operation know as ″la Mina″ or ″The Mine.″ Federal authorities have said the operation at one time laundered $4 million in three days through a ″storefront″ scheme in Atlanta.
″Are you, in fact, guilty of what you’re charged with?″ O’Kelley asked.
″According to the laws of this country, yes, your honor,″ replied Martinez.
Martinez faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in jail without parole and could face a $4 million fine. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 19. Martinez has been held in a maximum-security isolation cell at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta.
At the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Wilmer ″Buddy″ Parker III told how agents learned the methods of Martinez’s money-laundering operation, which made profits from cocaine sales look like legitimate income through jewelry store fronts.
Martinez met with a federal informant in September 1987 and in November began giving money to undercover government agents to launder. By the end of the year, federal agents picked up $4,321,418 in apparent cocaine profits in Los Angeles alone, Parker added.
Martinez, Pablo Escobar, Gaviria and Geraldo Moncada and others were indicted on March 29, 1989. Martinez was extradited to Atlanta last Sept. 7, the the first Columbian extradited to the U.S. since cartel member Carlos Lehder.
The agents, at the direction of Martinez, deposited the money into U.S. banks, then transferred it by wire to banks in Panama, Parker said.
Martinez’ plea was part of Operation Polar cap, a multi-agency operation that U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh called the largest money-laundering crackdown ever carried out by the federal government.
Agents arrested 127 suspected members of The Mine in Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Houston in February 1989. They seized millions of dollars, prompting Martinez to use undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Atlanta to continue money laundering, the Justice Department said.
Two South American banks also were indicted: The Banco de Occidente of Panama and Banco Occidente de Columbia.
The Panamanian Bank pleaded guilty in Atlanta to money laundering charges on August 14, 1989, and was ordered to forfeit $5 million.
More than three dozen people have been arrested in cases involving five Los Angeles jewelry companies accused of laundering money.
Trial is under way in some of those arrests and is pending in others.