Appeals court overturns fraud conviction of Mexican official’s wife in money laundering case
A federal appeals court has overturned a bank fraud conviction of a former Mexican official’s wife, whose case was the first and only one to go to trial in a string of money laundering investigations in South Texas.
Silvia Beatriz Pérez Ceballos, whose husband was the finance minister for the state of Tabasco from 2007 through 2012, was acquitted at her federal trial in Corpus Christi of laundering nearly $2 million, but was convicted for allegedly making false statements about the money she moved in a series of bank transfers.
Pérez had already been sentenced to 10 months in prison, but appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
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In a ruling last week, a three-judge appellate panel found insufficient evidence to sustain her conviction of bank fraud.
At her trial in Corpus Christi, federal prosecutors showed that Pérez and her husband, José Manuel Saíz Pineda, used a complicated network of trusts and companies to purchase real estate and luxury cars across the U.S., including in the Houston area.
One state contractor testified that he had given Saíz gifts, including more than $500,000 in 2008, but denied they were bribes. In order to convict Pérez of money laundering, prosecutors needed to prove that bribery happened in Mexico, that she was involved in financial transactions designed to hide the money’s criminal origins and that she knew the money was dirty. Jurors found that prosecutors hadn’t met their burden of proof on the money laundering charge, but did find her guilty of fraud for causing the altering of bank records.
The appeals panel, however, found that Chase Bank didn’t lose any money. And the appeals court also found that a conviction on the bank fraud count depended in part on the money laundering charge, of which she was acquitted.
READ ALSO: Former finance secretary of Tabasco state in Mexico indicted in Corpus Christi
In the end, the judges said there was insufficient evidence to show Chase was defrauded.
“The $1.9 million that Perez Ceballos transferred to and through Chase Bank was her money, which she had authority to withdraw freely,” the opinion states.
The Express-News left a phone message with her lawyer and an email message with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Houston, but did not receive a response.
Saíz, meanwhile, is in jail in Mexico, where he faces corruption charges, and has yet to answer to money laundering and bank fraud charges in the U.S.
Guillermo Contreras covers federal court and immigration news in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @gmaninfedland