LOS ANGELES (AP) — Father and son Chinese immigrants pleaded guilty Friday in a case of suspected money laundering for Mexican drug cartels in the Los Angeles fashion district.

Xilin Chen and his son, Tom Chen, pleaded guilty in federal court in Los Angeles and are set to be sentenced in August.

The Chens were among nine people arrested in September after authorities raided businesses in the fashion district suspected of taking bulk cash from drug traffickers for garments, allowing the clothing to be shipped to Mexico and resold — all in an effort to avoid detection.

Though the arrests were announced together, the Chens aren't believed to be directly connected to the most serious case involving the Sinaloa Cartel and ransom payments for a hostage.

U.S. officials say drug cartels have increasingly turned to international trade to launder proceeds from drug sales in the U.S. since 2010, when Mexican authorities tightened monetary regulations.

Federal prosecutor John Kucera said the Chens "100 percent" knew that the bulk cash they were taking — sometimes in amounts as high as $60,000 — was drug money.

"The way the cash is handled, sometimes it's brought in garbage bags wrapped in Saran wrap, usually in denominations of 20s by people who have little or no English," Kucera said after Friday's court hearing. "There's a lot of (indications) that would cause most people to start asking questions."

The Chens' attorneys did not respond to messages for comment Thursday or Friday.

Xilin Chen, 56, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, unlawful procurement of citizenship and giving false papers to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Tom Chen, 25, pleaded guilty to giving false papers to the agency.

Xilin Chen, who had recently obtained his U.S. citizenship, will be denaturalized and deported back to China, Kucera said. Tom Chen also faces deportation, though he may be allowed to remain in the U.S.

Kucera said it's possible that neither Chen will be sentenced to any prison time, even though the charges Xilin Chen admitted to carry penalties of up to 50 years in prison. His son's conviction carries up to five years behind bars.

"In our opinion, that's a fair trade to get the (denaturalization)," Kucera said of Xilin Chen. "He'd be spending a year in jail and then deported. Might as well just save the taxpayers money and deport him right now."

The Chens are agreeing to forfeit about $436,000 seized during their arrest and the proceeds from the sale of their homes and businesses.

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